The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood is so far the best book this reviewer has read this year. Reminiscent of Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Sherwood’s novel deals partly with death and what happens to us after we leave this earth. Unlike Albom's book, however, this one does not deal as much with whether one’s life was important and what mark a person left behind. Instead, Charlie’s story focuses on how one lets go of one’s loved ones, as well as learning how to move on.
Charlie St. Cloud was very close to his younger brother, Sam. The two were born out of wedlock, with different fathers, but with the love of their mother and a very strong brotherly bond, Sam and Charlie had a good life and were the best of friends. They did everything together and shared many interests including baseball. As well as being friends, Charlie also felt it was his duty to look after his younger brother.
Then one fateful day Charlie, Sam and their beloved dog, Oscar, are involved in an horrific automobile accident in which all three are pronounced dead. Charlie was fifteen and Sam was twelve. However, a fireman named Florio Ferrente is able to save one of them, and it happened to be Charlie. Florio, in fact, is the opening narrator of this novel, setting up the story about Charlie St. Cloud.
Thirteen years later, the reader is focused on a young woman who is about to take her first solo sailing trip around the world. This is her main goal in life, something that helps her forget about her father, who died two years ago. She has not yet learned to let go, and so she wraps herself around her work and her obsession with sailing. During a weekend sailing trip, she encounters a storm, and it is doubtful whether she will survive it.
The next scene finds Tess Carroll at the cemetery next to her father’s grave. It is there that she meets Charlie, who now earns a living at the cemetery, fulfilling a promise he made to Sam thirteen years ago. No matter what happened, Charlie promised, he would never leave Sam.
Tess and Charlie go out on a date, and it seems that their relationship may be on the verge of something more than just a simple friendship until Charlie receives bad news about Tess. He is now torn by his love for Sam and the life he has made for himself, and the need to have Tess in his life.
This was definitely a five-star-hanky book. As emotional as Albom’s books, The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud is a wonderfully crafted novel and Ben Sherwood does a fantastic job at creating this “world” that Charlie lives in, pulling one’s heartstrings. The book makes one question what really happens to our loved ones after they have passed on, but also makes us appreciate what little time we have on this earth. Whether there is a god or not, The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud may make a believer out of the most doubtful agnostic or atheist. This reviewer gives this book five stars and will most likely count it as one of her favorite books read in 2005.