In March 1912, an American college student named David Graham writes a fan letter to a Scottish poet living in Skye named Elspeth Dunn. As their correspondence continues over the next five years a tender yet persistent love grows. Through their letters they confess all: that David feels like a failure and adrift in a world that he doesn’t quite fit into; that Elspeth is married yet extremely lonely on her loved yet isolated island. They push each other to face their fears and try to find true happiness, hopefully someday with each other. But their love is complicated, not only by distance but by Elspeth’s marriage and David’s need to find adventure and satisfaction. When David joins the American Field Service Association as an ambulance driver during World War I life becomes even more desperate as Elspeth must now worry about whether he will even survive to give them a chance at the future they both want. As their lives twist and turn they continue to keep each other strong through their letters. Until the letters stop coming.
In 1940, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, is working to transport children out of the more dangerous cities facing nightly bombing to the relative safety of the Scottish countryside. When Elspeth learns her daughter has fallen in love with a pilot in the Royal Air Force she warns her daughter not to lose her heart during war time, that sometimes that love will come to only heartache. Margaret is confused by her mother’s response, never having been told about her mother’s life before she was born or even about her own father. When their home is damaged during a nightly air raid and letters that have been well hidden are scattered across the bedroom Margaret is further perplexed by her mother’s emotional response and refusal to acknowledge who they are from. Then Elspeth disappears and Margaret is left with only one letter from an American to try and find not only her mother but the key to her mother’s past.
Please excuse me while I gush over Letters from Skye. I absolutely loved it! Written exclusively as letters to and from various people, the reader is able to see directly into the hearts and minds of the letter writers, which really makes them endearing characters. Letters seem to give security to the writer, allowing them to share their lives and discuss topics and feelings that they might not otherwise feel comfortable sharing. This is apparent in the blossoming love between Elspeth and David and I ached along with them as they struggled to figure out how to make it work. The continual backdrop of war made their obvious issues even more difficult and you really can’t help but want them to find a way to be happy and together.
Margaret’s search for the secrets of her mother’s past is also incredibly poignant as you can feel her need to understand the past and where she comes from. There are a lot of twists that develop throughout the story but I don’t want to give too much away…you need to read the book and discover the journey for yourself.
The descriptions of Skye really drew me in as well as I have been there and it truly is a magical, beautiful place. It is easy to see this sometimes bright, sometimes stormy story set against such a rustic, ever changing background. That and the destruction and urgency of war combined with the character developments really keep you turning the pages. I couldn’t put the book down and continued to read it until the last page turned and I was shocked and disappointed it was over.
I would have rated Letters from Skye 5/5 but rated it as is due to the epistolary writing style. While I found this to be perfect for the story, others might not like a book written only in letters. Even if you aren’t sure this is for you I would recommend giving it a try. This is my favorite read of the year so far.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Ballantine Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.