Sorrow: Book summary and reviews of Sorrow by Tiffanie DeBartolo


by Tiffanie DeBartolo

Sorrow by Tiffanie DeBartolo X
Sorrow by Tiffanie DeBartolo
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Book Summary

From Tiffanie DeBartolo, author of God Shaped Hole, How to Kill a Rock Star, and Grace: The Jeff Buckley Story, comes Sorrow, a poignant story about friendship and love, art and music, and how these pursuits can save us from ourselves.

Joe Harper has backpedaled throughout his life. A once-promising guitar prodigy, he's been living without direction since abandoning his musical dreams. Now into his thirties, having retreated from every opportunity he's had to level up, he has lost his family, his best friend, and his own self-respect.

But Joe finds an unlikely path to redemption when he starts working as a carpenter for the bohemian conceptual artist October Danko. The job returns him to his hometown, loaded with bittersweet reminders of his former life, in the shadows of his beloved redwood trees. As Joe's relationship with October develops, he yearns to take a daring step toward a bold future, but struggles to escape the craven decisions of his past.

Sorrow is a stunning, moving novel that explores masculinity and suspended adolescence, all the while examining: Can courage be learned? And is it ever too late to follow your heart?

Paperback Original

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

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  1. Joe is a sensitive character. How would you describe his relationship to masculinity? How do you think the constructs of a masculine society affect Joe's self-esteem?
  2. What do you think it is about October that Joe finds attractive, given his own background and upbringing? How does he change as they become more involved? How does October change?
  3. October says: "I think love is the ultimate art project. To me, there's nothing more beautiful, more powerful, or more meaningful than truly and purely loving another human. No expectations. No strings attached. Just the freedom to be who you are and to be loved in spite of that." Is this kind of love truly possible — to have love with no expectations?
  4. Do you ...

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Sorrow:

"The Clock Is Ticking"
As no one knows there life span, the clock is ticking can only be based on am actuary table, which is no way to live. It would be better "to not put off to tomorrow what you can do today", join activities which enjoy, and plan pleasures for the ... - bill

Ask the Author
HA HA. It is real, indeed. I read an article on a different type of synesthesia years ago, and saved it in my writing file, to possibly research and use in a book at some point, as I found it really intriguing, and something I'd like to study a bit ... - vickys

Cal states, "It's impossible to become less of yourself by doing something you really wanna do. You can only become less by not doing it." What do you think of this statement? Do you agree?
I think it is too all encompassing. If you want to do something that might be hurtful to yourself or someone else, then you become a better person or more yourself by resisting. - peggyt

Cal states, "It's never too late to be the person you really are." Does Joe seem to buy into this philosophy at any point in the novel? Do you agree or disagree with Cal's assessment?
I believe that Joe really embraced that towards the end of the book. When he began playing guitar again and creating art, he was taking a turn towards his true self. I do believe Cals statement though and I think many people believe that they need to... - Brittany P.

Cal tells Joe that "Dreams aren't just ideas… They're maps." What do you suppose he meant? Do you think that's true?
I think this means two somewhat different things. There are the dreams we have in our waking lives, which are perhaps more accurately called aspirations or hopes. These can definitely serve as a roadmap to the future, if we choose to act on them. Cal... - juliaa

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Media Reviews

"A lost soul confronts a lifetime of regrets and the power of art in this novel ... A smart, thoughtful work that balances romance with intriguing philosophical questions." - Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"DeBartolo is no stranger to stories and music, and it shows in her carefully crafted details, humorous dialogue, and nuanced characterization." - Booklife by Publishers Weekly

"I lived and breathed the words and worlds of Joe and October. Reading Sorrow was a unique and galvanizing experience." - Kindle Crack Book Reviews

"Sorrow is a romantic novel whose reluctant antihero is forced to learn the lessons necessary to turn him into the hero of his own life." - Forward Book Reviews

"Drawn from DeBartolo's extensive experience in the worlds of music, art and academia, Sorrow delivers a heartbreaking yet empathetic critique of the male psyche and lays bare a quick-witted social commentary on the widespread malaise plaguing so many of us today." - Books By Women

"'Sorrow is perfect for those who love books mixing art and music and the deep emotions they both inspire. This book is a beautiful reminder to always live your life to the fullest." - Book Bellas

"In a monotonous world where there is no shortage of the formulaic, Tiffanie DeBartolo is a shot of pure adrenaline. With Sorrow, she once again masterfully captures love in all of its beautiful and devastating forms." - Agents of Romance

This information about Sorrow was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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If you are turned off by the publicity for this book, ignore the publicity. It isn't so much an examination of masculinity as of what it means to be human. (I very nearly didn't read it based on the presales publicity about masculinity.) I'm so glad I did - it is a compelling account of a not-so-young man's discovery of himself.

Toni B

Another winner by DeBartolo
Tiffanie DeBartolo's book "the God-shaped Hole" had affected me more that most books that I had read up to that time. I knew then that I would read whatever she would write and recommend her to my friends- which I have done. When I read that she was to have a new release, "Sorrow" , I couldn't wait for its release. Lo and behold, I was chosen by to receive an early release copy and I was ecstatic. Receiving my autographed copy cheered me as little else could in 2020 and the book did not disappoint.

It is a love story yet it is also a coming of age story even though Joe Harper is in his thirties. It is a love story in the traditional sense yet it is also a concurring love story between 2 "blood brothers". The emotions are real and completely believable. It is warm, loving, frustrating , heart-breaking and heart-warming . It is everything you can ask for in a story. A story that seems so real that you will be wondering about the characters long after you turn the last page.I do not want to reveal the plot or plot twists so as not to ruin your enjoyment of its unfolding.Thus I will just leave you with a few examples of Ms. DeBartolo's luminous writing:

" You live like someone who doesn't understand how quickly all of this is going to be over. You don't realize how fast the sand moves through the hourglass. How much your dreams matter." p159

"the thing is , Harp, everyone is always one decision away from a completely different life." p171

" the way you saw me for exactly who I was but never asked me to be somebody else.. You believed in me. You changed me. You inspired me."

Trees..."the universal symbols of strength , perseverance, and survival. They're living poems in time."

"Everything we do and every moment we live can be a work of art"......"making the most mundane into something extraordinary" p27

There is so much more. Her discussions about the meaning of art, of the peace to be found in nature ,of giving of oneself, of being open to new experiences. But I hope that even giving you a taste of the writing will make you wish to read this book. As you can tell, I loved it and highly recommend it for your reading pleasure.

Thank you , and Woodhall Press for the early copy of the book, It was much appreciated.

Allie Marini

"It's impossible to become less of yourself by doing something you really want to do."
No one -- and I mean NO ONE -- writes a messy love story and human reconciliation quite like Tiffanie De Bartolo. This author has had my heart since the 90's, when Dream for an Insomniac came out. For every decade of my life, Tiffanie DeBartolo has given me a book to help me get through the euphoric highs and soul-crushing lows of love, friendship, figuring out what you want, and understanding how to forgive those who hurt you, and how to forgive yourself for those you've hurt. In her body of work, love is an unavoidable, glorious mess that well-meaning people make, and it's also the exact thing that becomes their saving grace.

In every piece of her work, people fumble towards joy, work their way through pains of their own making, and sometimes discover how to reconcile the two. There are no true villains; only people whose timing is flawed. That's a rarity in novels with a love story, and I'll never tire of the way that DeBartolo takes careful consideration in making love triangles about the humanity of everyone involved, rather than the conflict of changing hearts.

Sorrow is maybe the most mature work from DeBartolo yet, which is perfect for readers who are past the messy drama of their 20s, and want a different kind of love story, populated by characters who have already figured out some things -- but not everything. I've always been fascinated by how well DeBartolo writes male characters, with an emotional complexity and depth that is completely unique. Joe Harper feels like a person that most readers will immediately recognize, and for most of the novel, I felt almost as though I was reading a series of letters from a friend.

For those who are familiar with the Bay Area (specifically, the North Bay), there are Easter Eggs galore, from Joe eating the best Puerto Rican food in NorCal at Sol Foods to Tiffanie's own dog making a cameo appearance (hi Dipsea!) -- all these little hidden gems contribute to the authenticity of the setting of the novel as a character in its own right, and the natural way that the story unfolds.

October has a lot in common with some of DeBartolo's pantheon of layered, interesting female characters. She's got the whimsy of Frankie, the soul of Trixie, and the tenacity of Eliza. If you love art, music, and the North Bay Redwoods, you'll love Sorrow.

As is my my way with Tiffanie DeBartolo's work, as I worked my way through the last pages, I found myself reading through the tears and hoping that there won't be such a long wait for the next book.

Completely unrelated to this review: I have written all of one writer fangirl letter in my entire life, and it was to Tiffanie DeBartolo. She wrote back to me, and was incredibly generous and encouraging. This has nothing to do with this novel -- but it also has everything to do with this novel. Great writers aren't always great people, and I feel that it bears mentioning when the two intersect.

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Author Information

Tiffanie DeBartolo

Tiffanie DeBartolo grew up in Youngstown, Ohio where she insists there was nothing to do but read and listen to music. It is no surprise then that after graduating high school a year early to study philosophy at UC Berkeley, she became a writer and founded a record label.

Tiffanie's most recent novel is Sorrow. Her previous works include God Shaped Hole (2002), How To Kill a Rock Star (2005), the graphic novel Grace: Based on the Jeff Buckley Story (2019), and the film Dream for an Insomniac (1996), which she wrote and directed.

She is the founder and Chief Executive Super Goddess of Bright Antenna Records, whose roster includes The Wombats, Sports Team, Fana, Wilderado, and Prep. She also co-founded the ShineMaker Foundation, a charity organization dedicated to making the world a better place. And she is a faculty member of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference, where she teaches writing every June.

In her spare time, she is a runner, hiker, yogi, world-traveler, cook, poet, and artist.

Tiffanie lives in Mill Valley, California with her husband Scott Schumaker and her two Irish Wolfhounds, Dipsea and Kazoo.

You will find her on Facebook at

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