Between You and Us

May 7, 2024 | Book Reviews

Who wouldn’t want to exchange grief and its source for a happier life?

Have you ever wished for a do-over regarding a difficult choice or a deep regret?

How many times do we ask “What if?” What if my dad had taken a different job in a different city? What if I’d been the youngest kid instead of the oldest? What if I’d married somebody else? What if my baby had lived?

Every decision we make has ramifications with a domino effect, as exemplified in It’s a Wonderful Life or Sophie’s Choice

In Between You and Us, Kendra Broekhuis juxtaposes two incongruent situations that precipitate an agonizing choice. 

This story induces contemplation about the impact of severe loss. It reveals how walking through grief on a long, dark, plodding journey inevitably changes you. It shows how grief can linger as depression and resurface whenever you try to return to regular life. How grief can erect walls between you and those who don’t understand. Or walls between loved ones who process grief in completely different ways.

Between You and Us is Kendra’s debut novel. After reading it, you might think twice about how you answer the above questions. 

WaterBrook (March 12, 2024)

Blurb

************************

My Thoughts

This book answers the question “What if?” One unexpected event lands Leona in an alternate world as a different version of herself. This other world exposes the repercussions from a different string of long-ago choices. Leona soon finds herself at a crossroads where she must decide which life to embrace—the old one with her husband David, or the new one with a different version of David and the young daughter they lost. Chapters alternate between present day and the previous ten years, dovetailing superbly into a satisfying ending. If I didn’t know better, I would not have guessed this is a debut novel.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t completely understand how the two worlds co-exist or the logistics of moving from one to the other. What matters most is the heart of the story: love, growth, relationships, weighing priorities, realizing the treasure one has, making an unfathomable choice. The characters are relatable and the dilemma is thought-provoking and poignant. The witty dialog, emotional tugs, and unexpected twists exemplify the best elements of women’s fiction, whether or not you prefer magical realism. 

Leona has no simple choice. It’s not merely choosing between David or baby Vera, wealth or financial struggles. It’s about the entire trajectory of a person’s life as a result of one choice, an unplanned event, or a tragedy. It’s about the journey through grief after losing a child, learning to walk through dark places together—albeit in different ways that don’t usually look pretty—learning the value of loving someone and being loved in those dark places. Emerging from that valley as a changed person.

Add to that the differences in Leona’s relationships with her mom, dad, sister Rose, friend Eden, and her in-laws due to David and Leona’s initial choice to forge their own life together instead of inheriting the family business. Each person and scene from the beginning matters throughout the story and at the end as things come full circle. 

If you’re familiar with Milwaukee, you’ll recognize some of the landmarks and neighborhoods. The humor and wit help navigate the heaviness. This is a clean read. Besides certain unnecessary dialog tags, a couple of things bothered me about the plot, but I can’t mention them without spoilers. I was confused about the order of events a few times, but overall, the timing and progression were clear. Only once did I felt gypped by a missing scene, where it was summarized in retrospect instead. But regardless of all that, I highly recommend this book to anyone who who desires a deep, meaningful, and provocative read.

Though this novel espouses a Christian world view, some Christian readers might say there isn’t enough “God” in it. I disagree. The quantity of God references does not determine whether a story is Christian or not. That’s a debate for another time, but I bring it up because of certain reader expectations. Wherever you stand, I hope you can appreciate the depth, originality, and intricacy of this story.

Join me for some Q & A with author Kendra Broekhuis.

Author Kendra Broekhuis

Questions about Between You and Us

My personal story is very different than the plot of Between You and Us, but my inspiration for writing it is rooted in the grief my husband and I experienced nearly nine years ago. At our second baby’s 20 week ultrasound, we found out she was not expected to live, and she died when I was 33 weeks pregnant with her.

Receiving a “no” answer to our many prayers for her healing, seeing how our culture is at times grief-illiterate, and working through the way grief effects various relationships made me want to see how I could draw that out in a story. 

Between You and Us shows two possible lives the main character Leona could live, so I not only used grief as a major difference in these two outcomes of her life, but the way socio-economics creates “different worlds” as well. My family has lived in Milwaukee for nearly eight years, and my husband is a teacher at a low-income school, so we are confronted daily with some of the socio-economic and racial divides in Milwaukee.

I prefer to think through all the major plot points before I write, as it gives me confidence that I at least have enough content to fill a novel. However, I also try to be flexible and willing to pivot if something in my story is not working.

I would say my characters didn’t hijack my story as much as my editor did, but I say that with much awe and honor of how my editor helped me greatly improve this story from its first drafts! My writing has turned out best when viewed as teamwork, and a lot of my story changed during the editing process.

For example, one entire timeline of chapters was rearranged and put in a different order. It was easy to trust my editor through the process though, because I knew she loved the story and kept its essence the same.

In order to create Leona and David, I started with a personality framework called the Enneagram. Leona is an Enneagram 9 (Peacemaker) and David an Enneagram 3 (Achiever.) Using this framework as a guide helped me learn how their two different personality types might act under duress, communicate through conflict, and relate to each other in a healthy state.

Regarding their family dynamics, I studied some of the unspoken rules related to navigating different socio-economic circles. For example, there’s a series on Netflix called Inventing Anna that’s based on true events and is about a woman who convinced New York’s elite she was a German heiress.

At times this kind of studying was a struggle because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just regurgitating hurtful stereotypes. I was grateful my publisher employs sensitivity readers to offer feedback on this kind of content, and tried to make my characters talk through some of these dynamics and differences in the story as well.

I knew most of the major plot points going into writing my first draft. However, one of the tricky parts of writing Between You and Us was deciding how much to explain about the magical realism elements of the story, aka Leona time traveling to a different outcome of her life!

I can’t say much more about that without giving spoilers, but I will say the answer to that question didn’t feel clear to me until I was close to the end of writing the first draft. And then again after getting feedback from beta readers.

That’s a great question! I’m not sure what she would say about me except that I should really stop writing her such difficult plot points. There are a few things I’m guessing Leona would relate to with me in each world, though.

In World #1, we’d relate to each other over our shared grief of losing a child, as well as our gratitude for being married to some really great guys. And in World #2, I think Leona and I would relate to each other in the ways we struggle with feeling out of our element at times.

My desire is that throughout this book, readers will experience safe spaces to lament life’s sorrows while finding glimmering reminders of hope.

I never thought I’d see the day where I’d be Googling theories of quantum physics. (Am I even saying that right?) I was never a star-student in science, so this was way out of my realm of comfort or expertise. However, it was necessary when deciding how much to explain about the magical realism elements of the story. And, I think it’s good to be stretched as an author in order to make a unique plot point. 

Funny story: in first drafts of Between You and Us, the setting was a fictional city named Bridgeview based on Milwaukee. However, it became clear through various rounds of edits that it would work better to make the setting real-world Milwaukee. Instead of talking behind Milwaukee’s back, I now had to think about the real neighborhoods and people who live there and how I would depict them.

When that setting change happened, it was also really fun to highlight as many of Milwaukee’s beautiful landmarks, restaurants, and neighborhoods—even if complicated—that make this city so great.

The main deciding factor in using a real name versus making up a location in the story was whether or not I thought using it would lead me to getting sued for libel. Kidding. (Not kidding.)

Questions about writing

I love reading books by authors who either try unique things in their stories, like Taylor Jenkins Reid, or authors who do such an amazing job weaving emotional tales, like Kristin Hannah. 

I like to start with an elevator pitch—the basic plot boiled down to one or two sentences that I believe will hook readers. From there, I think about the main themes I’d like to draw out of the story, and then list plot points and character traits that would work best for the story’s develops. All of that brainstorming turns into an outline nearly 50 pages long before I start my first draft.

For example, I knew on day 1 of dreaming up Between You and Us that I wanted to write a story about a grieving woman who visits a different outcome of her life where her daughter is still alive. From there, I wanted Leona to be someone who’s more of an inward processor and shies away from conflict so that it would make her stealthier as a visitor in a different world where she doesn’t want anybody to figure her out.

I am working on another book that will release with WaterBrook in September 2025. It’s contemporary women’s fiction, minus the twist of magical-realism this time. My hope as an author is to build a body of work that offers unique surprises, raises interesting conversation, and mixes any heavier themes with lots of light-hearted dialogue too.

I would tell my younger self to keep reading for the fun of it, playwriting with your little sisters, and spending time with lots of different kinds of people. It will all feed your love for stories and how they deepen our compassion toward your neighbors near and far.

*********************

If you like dual timeline fiction, you might enjoy my novel, A Hundred Magical Reasons. This story spotlights L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, his friendship with a young girl, and his impact through the decades. Set in Holland, Michigan, this pre-published novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. Read more and watch the book trailer here. The story recently won the Scrivenings Press novel contest and is currently under consideration at another publisher.

If you like small town/rural stories about family dynamics and secrets, you might enjoy my re-launched novel All That Is Hidden. Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968, the story spotlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.

  • Winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award
  • Semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest

**************************

Kendra Broekhuis bio

Kendra Broekhuis lives in the city of Milwaukee with her family. For her day job, she stays home with four of her children and drives them from one place to another in her minivan. She’s written, spoken, and created non-fiction content for over a decade, and now is excited to be publishing two novels with WaterBrook. You can find her sarcastic ramblings and serious encouragement—including the grief of losing her baby at thirty-three weeks pregnant—on social media and at KendraBroekhuis.com

*****************

Join me next time for a visit with author Jane Kirkpatrick.

Meanwhile, have you read Between You and Us or any other novels with magic realism? Answer in the comments below.

Ever reading,

Laura

Coming soon: A Hundred Magical Reasons, a novel

Join My Newsletter!

Stay in the loop! Subscribe to my monthly e-newsletter for book news & exclusive  giveaways.

Bonus: I’ll send you the Prequel to All That Is Hidden.

Follow Me Here!

Want Book Reviews?

Subscribe to the Standout Stories blog and I’ll send you Smoky Mountain recipes based on food in my novel All That Is Hidden.

By clicking “subscribe,” you agree with the terms of the privacy policy noted on the bottom of our website.

23 Comments

  1. Ruth Schmeckpeper

    I read Between You and US and loved it! What a unique twist and heartbreaking choices. I love that Kendra writes to let readers “experience safe spaces to lament life’s sorrows while finding glimmering reminders of hope.” What a beautiful gift to a hurting world. I had 3 copies and was able to bless other readers with this rare story.

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      Yes, we need more safe spaces to lament. Great that you were able to share the book with others.

      Reply
    • Kendra Broekhuis

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Ruth! Your support and encouragement through its release has been such a gift!!

      Reply
  2. Rita Trickel

    This books appeals to me on multiple levels, Laura. The first would be its focus on the griefs life brings us. I’ve experienced some very different expressions of grief in myself, and observed the myriad words and ways we may use to console others. On an emotional level at the receiving end, that can range from wonderful to wonderfully painful; on an objective level, it’s fascinating, and I’m anxious to see the perspectives Kendra examines.

    I’ve also enjoyed some well-executed works of magical realism, which actually have prompted me to creatively reflect on how some the results of my own major life events may have differed with different choices. That this book takes on that perspective is another appeal.

    And it’s a bonus that Ms. Broekhuis uses Milwaukee settings. I’m looking forward to finding which settings I remember.

    Unfortunately, my library hold request estimates a 10-week wait! I’m looking forward to sitting down with this book.

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      Get the ebook! That is, if you have a Kindle. Or buy the paperback. Don’t wait for the library. 🙂
      I’m guessing this story will completely resonate with you, Rita.

      Reply
    • Kendra Broekhuis

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences here, Rita! I hope Leona’s story delivers well on the appeals that you mentioned.

      And, a 10 week wait!?! Wow!

      Reply
  3. Nancy Radosevich

    I’m looking forward to reading Between You and Us because of the magical realism. I love the idea of a character “waking up” in another version of her life. It will be fun to read about Milwaukee, as well. So interesting to hear a bit about Kendra Broekhuis’s writing process, as well as the next book in the works!

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      Yes, the Milwaukee setting is a fun bonus for us SE Wisconsin folk–on top of reading a great story.

      Reply
    • Kendra Broekhuis

      I love the way magical realism lets writers be imaginative to another degree – like a slice of childhood joy again! Thanks for reading about my process. I *love* hearing how writers write too. We’re all so different! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Mary

    Kendra has written a great book. Right now I am about halfway through the story. Leona is an interesting character. It has been fun to see how Leona’s two lives are playing out. The story touches on loss and choices that bring about loss. Kendra has a nice balance of lighthearted moments along with the heaviness of grief. That is not easily done. Looking forward to finishing the book!

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      Thanks for your assessment of the book so far, Mary! You’re right–there’s a good balance of humor and heaviness. The humor is vital for a book like this.

      Reply
    • Kendra Broekhuis

      I’m glad you noticed the balance, Mary! I wanted that to come through so Leona’s story wouldn’t only be heavy. Thank you for reading it!!

      Reply
  5. Barbara M. Britton

    I had the pleasure of reading Kendra’s book. I loved the Milwaukee setting, and the story touched my heart. When I learned of Kendra’s real-life grief over losing a baby, the story meant so much more to me.

    Great interview, Laura.

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      Yes, knowing the author’s own experience definitely enriches a story.

      Reply
    • Kendra Broekhuis

      It was really lovely to have you at the launch, Barb. It’s special to get to share my book *and* my personal story with others! I appreciate your support!

      Reply
  6. Deena Adams

    I hosted Kendra on my blog earlier this year, and her book has been on my want-to-read list ever since. It sounds so good!

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      I hope you get a chance to read it soon, Deena! I think you’ll enjoy it on many levels.

      Reply
    • Kendra Broekhuis

      It was an honor to be hosted by you too, Deena! My want-to-read list is also quite large right now. What a gift to have so many great books to choose from!! 🙂

      Reply
  7. Anita Klumpers

    This has to be one of the most unique story concepts ever!
    Your interview with Kendra and your thoughts on the book
    are equally intriguing.
    So many good books—how do our families expect us to feed them and wash their clothes?

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      I’m with you on that, Anita! There’s never enough time to read everything I want to read. Too bad we have to eat and sleep. 🙂

      Reply
    • Kendra Broekhuis

      I agree, Anita. So many great books to read, but also so much laundry!! Haha. Thank you for checking out the interview!

      Reply
  8. Elizabeth Daghfal

    Can’t wait to read this. I was gifted a copy, and it’s burning a hole in my nightstand! Hopefully this weekend I can start.

    I love the idea of two outcomes. I’ve often wondered for my own life what would have happened if certain things had happened instead of others–and interestingly, almost all of those questions involved felt grief. I love the fact that Kendra has dealt with this topic because I think our society–even our Christian groups–struggle to know how to help people grieve.

    I’m so excited to see where Kendra’s career takes her!

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      I’m guessing we’ve all wondered about different possible outcomes and “what if”s. And there’s always a tradeoff of some kind. And you’re right. Many people either don’t know how to grieve or are not allowed to grieve.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to my Standout Stories blog to receive email alerts when a new post goes live!

I'll send you Smoky Mountain recipes based on my novel!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This