They Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson

They Left Us Everything: A Memoir

byPlum Johnson

Paperback | March 18, 2014

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Winner of the 2015 RBC Taylor Prize
Winner of the 2016 Forest of Reading® Evergreen Award™ 

After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father,  and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year-old mother—author Plum Johnson  and her three younger brothers experience conflicted feelings of grief and relief when  their mother, the surviving parent, dies. Now they must empty and sell the beloved  family home, which hasn’t been de-cluttered in more than half a century. Twenty-three  rooms bulge with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum remembers her loving  but difficult parents who could not have been more different: the British father, a  handsome, disciplined patriarch who nonetheless could not control his opinionated,  extroverted Southern-belle wife who loved tennis and gin gimlets. The task consumes  her, becoming more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger  memories of her eccentric family growing up in a small town on the shores of Lake  Ontario in the 1950s and 60s. But unearthing new facts about her parents helps her  reconcile those relationships with a more accepting perspective about who they were  and what they valued.


They Left Us Everything is a funny, touching memoir about the importance of preserving  family history to make sense of the past and nurturing family bonds to safeguard the  future.

About The Author

Plum Johnson is an award-winning author, artist and entrepreneur living in Toronto. She was the founder of KidsCanada Publishing Corp., publisher of KidsToronto, and co-founder of Help’s Here! resource magazine for seniors and caregivers.
They Left Us Everything: A Memoir
They Left Us Everything: A Memoir

by Plum Johnson


In stock online

Available in stores

Details & Specs

Title:They Left Us Everything: A MemoirFormat:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 8.3 × 5.4 × 0.7 inPublished:March 18, 2014Publisher:Penguin CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143189050

ISBN - 13:9780143189053

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Extra Content

Bookclub Guide

1. Why is the title ironic?2. What are the major themes in the book? Which theme do you find the most compelling? Explain.3. One of the reviewers called the house “a character in its own right.” Do you agree? How does the setting and the house affect the story? Have you ever had a similar attachment to a house you lived in?4. The author refers to having an Other Mother growing up. Did you have a similar experience with an Other Parent? How does a relationship with an Other Parent differ from that of a biological parent?5. What were the most memorable scenes for you? Were there scenes in the book that upset you? If so, why?6. What were the many contradictions between the mother and the father? To what degree was the behaviour of this couple a product of their time? Were they suitable marriage partners? Why or why not?7. What do you think about the father’s ideas of child rearing? How are they different from today’s parenting approach?8. How would you describe the author’s feelings towards her mother? Can you relate to those feelings? Explain.9. Do you think parents should destroy their personal diaries or save them for their children to read in the future?10. How does the relationship between a parent and child change as each grows older? What powers can elderly parents have over their children?11. What parallels does the author draw between her relationship with her mother and her relationship with her youngest daughter? Why do you think the mother–daughter relationship is often complicated?12. The author says of her mother: “I had more than sixty years to ask questions, but the questions didn’t form until after she’d gone. Now there are questions I didn’t even know I had.” Why do you think questions come to us later—after it’s too late? What sorts of questions do you think you would ask if you knew this was your last opportunity to do so?13. As lifespans get longer, more and more people are torn between taking care of elderly relatives and taking care of their own immediate families. Describe some of the common challenges faced by this family in the story as well as those that were unique to them. Has society done a good job of keeping up with the needs of modern families? Why or why not?14. Women are often expected to be the caregivers in a family. Do you think that being the only daughter in this family was a factor that contributed to the author’s role in this story? Why or why not?15. Describe the relationships among the siblings. Why do siblings often experience life within a family so differently? How would you describe your relationship with your siblings?16. How would you describe the tone of the book? Does the tone work for the particular story the author is telling?17. How did the book affect you? Did reading it help you to understand your own family better?

Editorial Reviews

Praise for They Left Us Everything“[They Left Us Everything] is the kind of slim, unassuming memoir that hits you deep in the gut . . . Amid the scraps of paper left in jacket pockets, family photos and pieces of furniture, part of the “everything” our parents leave us with are our memories of them, good and bad.  Perhaps figuring out what to do with them is as close to a manual for grief as we get.”—National Post“Johnson writes with clarity, wit and a powerful descriptive voice that makes the rambling family home she moves back into for 16 weeks a character in itself.”—NOW Toronto“A fascinating and delightful story – a satisfying and thought-provoking book.”—The Parry Sound North Star“Each word of They Left Us Everything is heartfelt and moving. We are privy to Johnson’s emotional journey to the point that it feels like she is part of our own family. Her story lingers inside, touching the soul.”—“At times heartbreaking and at others hysterically funny . . . the book’s descriptive prose brings [the] places and people to life and poignantly conveys the quasi-spiritual journey that helps Johnson overcome her grief.”—Publishers Weekly“[Johnson] takes you along on a journey that is emotional, humorous, and candid.”—Newstalk 1010