Vivie's Secret - Book Review


Vivie's Secret

Author: Terry Caruthers
Genre: Young Adult - Coming of Age
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Date Published: July 23, 2020
ISBN-10: 1684335272
ISBN-13: 978-1684335275


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Book Review of :  Vivie's Secret


Vivie’s Secret by Terry Lee Caruthers is a fictionalized biographical account of a woman who, at age twelve, became a Hungarian refugee as a result of Russia’s 1956 invasion of Hungary. After an arduous task to escape the incursion, she eventually becomes an American citizen. Vivie was 60 years old when she died, leaving behind 60 feline companions and a trust fund to manage their care until new ailurophiles could be found for them.

Both Caruthers and the real Vivie upon whom this story is based, dedicated their private lives to cat rescue and the humane treatment of feral cats. It is how the two women became acquainted over the years. Despite their friendship, Caruthers knew nothing of Vivie’s well-guarded past until shortly after she died. Struggling to assimilate what she knew of her friend with this unexpected information, Terry combined research with the few facts she now had of Vivie's past and crafted this novel with a protagonist named Vivie Gabrielle Degirdro McNabb.

Twelve-year-old Vivie Degirdro, her younger sister Mae, and her well-educated, professional parents lived in Budapest, Hungary, in 1956. Their peaceful, happy existence was shattered as the Russians invaded their city. The family fled for their lives with only a few belongings. Vivie was forced to leave her beloved cat, Norsk, behind. The author presents a memorable picture of that event, “Cracks of gunfire sounded from the street. Norsk's claws sank into Vivie's flesh as she launched herself across the room and fled.  The young girl cried out more from fear than from the long, deep, crimson scratches the cat left on her forearms.”

During the family’s long devastating flight on foot toward Austria and beyond, the readers witness the horrors and destruction of war. The sight of corpses and mutilated bodies, hypothermia, starvation, and other tragedies accompany the family’s trek. Eventually, they are smuggled on a train heading to the border. The displaced family is befriended by several compassionate people on their journey. Guta, a kindly elderly woman who understood Vivie's love for cats and her dreams, gave her this advice, “follow your dreams. Don't let others dissuade you, otherwise, you will live a life filled with regret and what-ifs.” Don’t compromise. It is advice we all should follow.

Vivie struggles with sorrow, death, guilt, and separation from her Poppa. Later through the intervention of family friends, she arrives in the United States and is adopted by the McNabb family of Abilene, TX. Later she becomes an American citizen and a college graduate.  Through all of this, her love for cats does not diminish. Throughout her adult life, she continues her education as well as her dedication to cat rescue. Her secret remained hidden, as she promised her poppa, until after her death.

The story is filled with the author's descriptive language. “Tension hung in the air like an overfilled water balloon.” The grizzled and gruff old man had “bushy white eyebrows resembling a couple of hairy caterpillars, his mustache an overused scrub brush.” But his actions “proved there was a lovable teddy bear underneath his bluster.”

The horrors of fleeing war are balanced by the descriptions of Vivie's compassion for her fellow man and animals. Caruthers creates a harrowing account of Vivie's family's escape during the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956.  The novel gives the reader a chance to view war and the trauma of fleeing its chaos from the eyes of a child. It is a narrative that captures the triumphs and resilience of children who are refugees. Vivie’s Secret gives an account of the constant fear, desperation, hardships, and brutality that accompanies flight from the bullets, falling artillery, and bombs on what was once home. Caruthers' novel is filled with suspense and heartache, but it also serves as an inspirational and informative story of those who flee the horror of war in search of freedom. Vivie’s Secret is also an excellent book about the love of cats.

Reviewed by: Carole W

About Terry Caruthers


Born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, Terry Lee Caruthers is a special projects librarian with the Knox County Library System. She grew up surrounded by strong, female role models who nurtured her imagination and imbued her with a love of reading, writing, and storytelling. Terry continues to reside in South Knoxville where she shares her life with four rescue cats. Vivie's Secret is her first novel.

Visit for more information on Terry Caruthers


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