After the unexpected death of her husband, Joanne Huist Smith had no idea how she would keep herself together and be strong for her three children--especially with the holiday season approaching. But 12 days before Christmas, presents begin appearing on her doorstep with notes from their "True Friends." As the Smiths came together to solve the mystery of who the gifts were from, they began to thaw out from their grief and come together again as a family. This true story about the power of random acts of kindness will warm the heart, a beautiful reminder of the miracles of Christmas and the gift of family during the holiday season.
I will have to be honest in saying I don't think I did a lot of researching before requesting this book from the library, because once it was time for me to read it, I realized it was an autobiography! I actually really enjoyed this book a lot, and I think it being a real story kind of made it even more magical. However, it's also a bit harder to review because it's someone's actual life. So it's weird to talk about the plot or the story when it's a story of real events of someone's personal and vulnerable moments. I can't talk about characters because these aren't fictional characters, but instead real people.
So first, I'll talk about the writing. I actually really enjoyed the author's writing style. It was easy to get caught up in the story and I think she wrote her family really well. I felt like I got to know her sons Ben and Nick along with her daughter Megan fairly easily. I thought their struggles with dealing with their first holiday without Rick, her husband and their father, was written perfectly. Her and Ben's aversion and hesitation to celebrate the holidays came across strongly and as a reader I felt the battle of not wanting to participate but also wanting to make young Megan happy.
The mystery itself of who is laying out presents each day for the family definitely had me intrigued from the beginning. I genuinely wanted to know who was brightening up their days and I really liked seeing the family bond over the mystery of the gift givers. I think each time a present was left on their door step, I was less excited about the gift and more excited to see how this particular one would bring the family closer.
I know I said I cannot really discuss the characters, because they're real people, but I want to talk about them as characters because to me, that's how I know them. I really enjoyed Ben's growth and I easily warmed up to him, despite being a bit annoyed at him at first. I understood (to a point, considering I have never experienced what he experienced) why he was so angry, but I just wanted to go into the book glue the family back together. And of course, Megan was a cutie. I really liked that she was a constant light in the family, and I feel like without her push to keep celebrating Christmas is what helped the family. However, I would have liked to get to know Nick more. I could definitely tell that he was less angry than Ben, and more still traumatized by the events of his father's death. And I could tell he was softer and more attentive to his younger sister, but other than him telling his mom what he wanted for Christmas I don't think he got enough time in the book for me to feel like I understood him as much as his siblings.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. If you're in the mood for a good holiday book (or honestly, just a good autobiography about family, grief, and love) then I think this book would be perfect. I am an actual sap when it comes to sweet holiday stories, so you can bet your butt I cried at some points in this book. I think the fact that it's autobiographical made it even heavier at times, which makes sense, knowing these events happened. I think that's all because of the writing also, it made it really easy to care for this family and want them to be happy again. I liked getting a snippet of the future. I won't spoil it, but getting that small glimpse into the future after the events of the book made it feel really hopeful, especially for anyone who has lost a family spouse or parent. It was really heartwarming.