Soon after my mother died, I caught Bree Housley at Left Bank Books talking about her memoir, We Hope You Like This Song. The subtitle is “an overly honest story about friendship, death, and mix tapes”. The writeups said the book was funny, and I thought it would cheer me and give me a brighter outlook on losing someone I loved.
Bree lost her best friend since childhood when Shelly developed a severe form of preeclampsia she didn’t recover from. The book brings attention to this common pregnancy condition as a warning, but it is mostly a tribute to the power of friendship and to Shelly, who brought light and laughter to Bree and a small town in Iowa.
Four years after Shelly’s death, Bree still suffered from her loss. Friends talking of week-long New Year’s resolutions versus the long form got Bree thinking to make a resolution per week in honor of Shelly’s memory. She would do something Shelly-like, something outgoing, different and maybe crazy every week. Bree’s sister Courtnee joined her, and the two started a blog called “Fifty 2 Resolutions” to document their yearlong endeavor. It was a big hit.
We HopeYou Like This Song really is a hoot, but it is also serious and sweet. You see the hole in Bree’s heart, you also see how doing Shelly-stunts brings her healing and peace. Behaving like the outgoing, happy-go-lucky Shelly gave her a sense of freedom and a greater appreciation for the moments in life. “We make life a gift.”
Yes, this book is crazy funny. It’s written in a very open, personable style most appealing to someone a little younger than me (like a couple decades younger), but I loved it. You wouldn’t guess Bree used to be shy. She drinks and swears (f-bomb warning), mentions personal body parts and making out with guys—like what you might expect from a young person influenced by a social butterfly BFF. (Bree says she is still introverted.) She plans her wedding during this time (orders a Ho-Ho cake and chooses pizza buffet) and moves around advertising jobs. Commentary is hilarious. The moves from past to present and back again are done amazingly well—the stories and timeframes stitched together and I got neither lost nor side-tracked too far off the main path. (Note: Time-jumping is difficult to do well. Bree is a copywriter and had a pro editor through Seal Press.)
And what an endless supply of stories there are: planning an ex-boyfriend’s death by peanuts, dressing up pretty and going to the World’s Largest Truck Stop for fried cauliflower before the high school dance, imitating New Kids on the Block. Resolutions included going out wearing old clothes hidden in the back of the closet (t-shirt with the painted-on sheriff’s badge and belt), eating weird food (beef tongue tacos), and singing karaoke for the first time (“Snoopy vs the Red Baron”). It’s not really about the resolutions, it’s about the stories around them and how Bree felt after each week was up. Lots of happy photos with funny captions. Mentions of many songs and their stories, because we all know one song can bring on a flood of memories. My book came with a CD mix tape of pertinent songs.
When writing a memoir about a non-famous person, we have to speak to our readers who have no vested interest in this stranger. Why should they care? What is the basic human-interest aspect lots of people can relate to? It took Bree awhile to distance herself enough and to find this aspect. I love this line on the back cover: the book “reminds us that friendship has the power to transform our lives—even after death.” It’s about more than Shelly. Yes, I felt good reading this memoir about death.