About the Book
Three women, united by love and kinship, struggle to conform to the social norms of the times in which they lived.
In 1931, Katherine Henderson leaves behind her small town in Kansas and the marriage proposal of a local boy to live on her own and work at the Sears & Roebuck glove counter in Chicago. There she meets Annie—a bold, outspoken feminist who challenges Katherine’s idea of who she thinks she is and what she thinks she wants in life.
In 1997, Katherine’s daughter, Joan, travels to Lawrence, Kansas, to clean out her estranged mother’s house. Hidden away in an old suitcase, she finds a wooden box containing trinkets and a packet of sealed letters to a person identified only by a first initial.
Joan reads the unsent letters and discovers a woman completely different from the aloof and unyielding mother of her youth–a woman who had loved deeply and lost that love to circumstances beyond her control. Now she just has to find the strength to use the healing power of empathy and forgiveness to live the life she’s always wanted to live.
In the Media
“The Top 15 Lesbian Books of 2017,” The Lesbian Review
From the Rainbow Award judges:
“The way this book is written is so beautiful. I was captivated by the character’s lives and the way the entire story slowly unfolded. As far as historical romance is concerned, this is by far the best one I’ve ever read!” (Joann)
“This is a superb novel. The author’s skill at weaving the time periods like ribbons through a braid is very impressive. She reflected the repression of the era but also showed the dawn of community.” (Kit)
“When I started this novel, I figured it would be my least favorite, given that it seemed to be more of a remembrance story. Oh, was I wrong. Compelling writing, a volatile time-period, and tension that had me resentful when I had to put the book down.” (Anna)
“The story unfolds like a flower; the impact of it on each person is profound. It’s a spectacular offering of love gained, lost, and struggled with over a lifetime—a poignant tale with a marvelous reveal at the end.”—Anna Furtado, Lambda Literary Review
“The character work is masterful, the storytelling beautiful, and overall it’s just incredibly well done.” — The Lesbian Review
“Letters Never Sent by Sandra Moran is a wonderful historical romance. The story is engrossing and will keep you turning the page. The characters are well developed and the story is beautiful. This story will take you on an emotional rollercoaster, that will make you beg for more books by this author. I would be happy to read this book over and over again. Letters Never Sent should be a bestseller.” — Heather Bennett, Curve Magazine
“Letters Never Sent is a crisp, well-written story that is chock full of strong imagery, indelible characters, and conflict that almost any woman can relate to in one way or another. Her transitions between the past and present work seamlessly, and she is able to capture the floodwaters of joy, love, heartbreak, and sorrow with unhurried profundity.” — Salem West, The Rainbow Reader
“This story is “real” – it’s not fancified or glorified in any way. The characters are not bigger than life nor are they leading exceptional, unexpected lives. These women could have been our mothers, our grandmothers, our great-grandmothers, our aunts . . . Therein lies so much of the beauty of Letters Never Sent. It’s so much more than a novel about three women, their lives, their choices, their loves, and their losses. It’s also a study – historical, anthropological, ethnographic – of society and gender. Personally, I firmly believe this should be required reading in college course on Gender and Society.” — Carleen Spry, Frivolous Views
“Sandra Moran’s novel is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most moving and emotional books I have ever read . . . Ms Moran layers the interplay of current and historical revelation brilliantly. She holds the suspense of what happens next, while at the same time giving so many false trails for our emotions that the twist, when it happened, took me completely by surprise.” — Lesbian Reading Room
“This book captivated me from the beginning. The grasp of language and characters made the story leap off the pages. Annie, Katherine and Joan became real, breathing people. The culture of the time is brought to life as we journey with Katherine from the countryside of Kansas to the city life in Chicago at the time of the first World’s Fair . . . In every way this book was a five star out of five. Emotion, characters, dialog, social message-everything. I loved it and can’t wait for the next one.” — Erzabet, Read the Rainbow
“Moran’s building of this struggle is well-handled and one of the strengths of the novel, for at several points she could have easily dipped into stereotypes and sugar-coated this journey. She doesn’t, and that’s what makes this such an important read for anyone seeking a sense of how difficult life was like for lesbians (specifically) and perhaps any member of the LGBT community trying to establish a life for oneself.” — Brad Windhauser, Queer Books
“Letters Never Sent is an emotional, romantic story that deals with important issues and powerful themes of loss and injustice. It was very moving to read a book that reminded me just how far women have come in our fight for equality and freedom. I enjoyed reading this touching novel.” — Erin Golding, Healing Scribe
In the Media
A Selected Book for the 2015 Adult Winter Reading Program – Kansas City Public Library
“Letters Never Sent – Sandra Moran” — Presentation by Sandra Moran, Kansas City Public Library, November 13, 2014
“20 Awesome Mother’s Day Gifts For Your Wife, Mom, or Baby Mama,” by Diane Anderson-Minshall, The Advocate
“The Rainbow Hub’s Fall 2013 Reading List”
Joan grabbed the handle and lifted the suitcase onto the table, again surprised by how light it was. Though it must have been expensive at one time, the case was now just scuffed, worn, and somewhat depressing looking. The leather handle was worn smooth and shiny from use. In addition to the button-operated latches, stiff, cracked leather straps buckled in the front. Joan struggled for several minutes to unbuckle one of them. She went into the kitchen, pulled out several drawers in search of scissors, and found a steak knife that would do the job.
She returned to the dining room and flipped the case onto its side. She pulled the knife across the strap and sawed, ignoring the feeling that her mother would be furious at the desecration. She slid the blade under the strap, cut it the rest of the way, and sawed through the second strap. The scratched and tarnished latches were all that kept the suitcase closed. She brushed her fingertips across the buttons and then used her thumbs to push them to the sides. The latches sprang open. She paused, inhaled, and lifted the lid.
The smell of mothballs wafted upward from the case. Joan sneezed twice and wrinkled her nose The contents of the suitcase appeared to be neatly-folded women’s clothing. A dark skirt and a white blouse, yellowed with age, lay side-by-side on top of the other clothing. Joan thought back to the night her mother sat touching the white cloth. It must have been this. She reached out her own hand and caressed the blouse. It was cotton. Simply cut. She lifted it out of the case and unfolded it. It was short-sleeved. Tapered. Carefully, she set it aside and picked up the skirt. Her fingers felt something hard beneath it. The box.
She pushed aside the material and saw the shiny dark wood. It was just as she remembered—perhaps even shinier. Carefully, she lifted the box from the suitcase. Inside, something metallic clinked against something else. Curious, she tried to raise the lid, but it was locked. She remembered her mother’s locket and the tiny key it contained. She had been buried with it on. The only way to open the box would be to jimmy it. Her mother, she knew, had bobby pins upstairs. She jogged up the stairs, grabbed several pins, and returned to the kitchen.
“Do I leave the plastic tips on?” she wondered aloud and shrugged. “Why not?”
Joan picked up the box and sat in her chair. As she tilted the box upward to catch the best light, she again heard the contents within shift and clink. She frowned, pushed her bangs from her eyes, and inserted the end of the bobby pin into the tiny keyhole. Using the tips of her thumb and forefinger, she delicately jiggled the pin. Nothing happened. Maybe I should turn it like a key. She gripped the pin with more force. She twisted. Nothing. She sat back and considered. Maybe she should try a combination of the two maneuvers. Within seconds, the pin turned easily.
“Wow,” Joan exhaled, surprised that it had worked.
She leaned forward and placed the box on the table, the bobby pin still protruding from the keyhole. Whatever was in this box had made Katherine cry. Her hands trembled as she took a deep breath and lifted the lid.
She blinked at the contents for a few moments, trying to make sense of a puzzling mishmash of items. Keys—to an older car from the looks of it. Theater ticket stubs—also old. A spent bullet case, a battered silver flask, and a thin stack of letters bound up in a green-and-white mesh scarf. She frowned. This was what made her mother cry? It seemed odd.
She picked up the keys. The key fob was a stretched, elongated penny—the kind that could be made as a souvenir at just about any carnival or museum. Pressed into the copper was “WORLD’S LARGEST FOUNTAIN: WORLD’S FAIR CHICAGO 1934.” She could tell it wasn’t meant to be a key fob, but rather someone had used a nail and a hammer to punch a hole in it so it could be attached to the ring. The three keys, themselves, were less interesting. They were all worn and had the smell of old metal. The smallest was tarnished brass and appeared to be a house key. The other two were to a car—a Chevrolet. She cupped them in her palm. The larger key was likely to the ignition and the slightly smaller one opened the trunk and glove box. She looked back down into the box and trailed her fingertips over the tarnished body of the flask. At one time it probably had been very nice. She picked it up and felt the weight of it. She shook it. Liquid sloshed. She twisted open the top, sniffed, and drew back. Whiskey.
“Whoa,” she muttered with a small frown. Her mother, as far as she knew, didn’t drink. And then there was the bullet case. Why had her mother saved that? As far as she knew, her parents didn’t own a handgun. It was all so odd.
She picked up the packet of letters. The scarf tied around them was made of some kind of gauzy, scratchy material. It smelled dusty and old as she carefully untied the knot and freed the letters. The scarf, itself, was like the ones her mother wore in some of the pictures from the 1950s. It had, at one time, been white, although now it was somewhere between beige and ivory, with a thick green border inset with thinner green bands.
The packet of letters consisted of sealed envelopes. The envelopes were blank and appeared to have never been opened. Joan guessed they had been written by her mother, but never mailed. She held one up to the light and could see the faint impression of her mother’s bold, but meticulous handwriting. She fanned them out like a hand of cards—seven envelopes, each thick with several sheets of paper.
Joan picked up the oldest-looking one. She was curious to know what was inside, but also hesitant to invade her mother’s privacy. She laughed softly. Her mother was dead. What did it matter? Before she changed her mind, she grabbed the knife, slid the tip of the blade under the envelope’s flap, and slit it neatly open. The paper inside was folded into thirds and looked as though it had been wadded up and then flattened. The tight, clean script was her mother’s. The upper right hand corner was dated 1947.
I’m sitting here at my desk, staring out the window and wondering what you’re doing right now. I imagine you lying on a blanket in the park, a book on your stomach, your flask tucked into your pocket for a quick nip. The sun is warm on your face and you’re dozing. I would like to pretend that you are dreaming of me, but know that likely enough, that time has passed and now your dreams are of Doris.
I know you said that you have moved on, but I want you to know that I am in love with you. I know it now. I know it without question and if you could just ignore the past—if you could just give me a sign that there is still a chance for us, I would leave my life here and come to you.
Do you ever think about those days when we were together? I do. You were everything to me and now that you’re gone—now that you’re with her—I don’t know as I can live. If I had just gone inside, packed my bag and put it in your car. If I had just left with you before Clyde came home from the war, none of this would have happened.
I dream of you at night—of your kisses and the warmth of your body. And then I wake next to him snoring beside me. And I hate him. Sometimes I hate you, too. I hate that you have a new life—a life that doesn’t include me. Do I sound bitter? Jealous? I am. I am so jealous that sometimes it feels like it’s consuming me.
I am in love with you—so deeply in love with you that nothing else matters. I refuse to give up on us because it’s clear to me now that you’re gone that without you, I’m nothing.
Joan sat back and stared at the letter clutched in her hand. Her mother undoubtedly had written it, though the sentiment and the emotion sounded nothing like the woman she knew. But who was A? And what had gone on that they would have . . . she paused, suddenly aware of the date. The date was seven years before she had been conceived, but well after Katherine and her father had married, which meant . . . She gasped—her mother had been having an affair.