The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina ★★★★☆ #BookReview #BookBlog

Primary Genre(s): Contemporary Fiction
Published: 9 Mar 2021 by Abrams/The Overlook Press
Page count: 416 (print length)
My Format: eBook via NetGalley
Cover: Pretty, simple
Pacing: Weird
Ending: Good
Do I Recommend: Yes
Commission Link (U.S.): Buy The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World

My rating: ★★★★☆

When Yui loses both her mother and her daughter in the tsunami, she begins to mark the passage of time from that date onward: Everything is relative to March 11, 2011, the day the tsunami tore Japan apart, and when grief took hold of her life. Yui struggles to continue on, alone with her pain.

Then, one day she hears about a man who has an old disused telephone booth in his garden. There, those who have lost loved ones find the strength to speak to them and begin to come to terms with their grief. As news of the phone booth spreads, people travel to it from miles around.

Soon Yui makes her own pilgrimage to the phone booth, too. But once there she cannot bring herself to speak into the receiver. Instead she finds Takeshi, a bereaved husband whose own daughter has stopped talking in the wake of her mother’s death.

Simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming, The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World is the signpost pointing to the healing that can come after.

My Thoughts
This book is a little different from what I typically read, but the topic intrigued me and that cover is so beautifully simple that I had to read it. Here are my pros and cons for The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World:


  1. I can’t even imagine how the people in Japan coped with such an instant and large loss of life from this tsunami, so when I selected this book I expected it to be absolutely gut-wrenching and sad… and it was. But it was ultimately more hopeful, joyful, and heartwarming than sad. Yes, there are moments that will crush you (I did get quite emotional at one point), but there are more moments that will give you peace.
  2. The book is written in a very unique way. Each chapter basically describes an event or a memory of the lead character (Yui) and it was followed by an extremely short chapter that further defined a random detail from the previous chapter. For example, Yui may think about a picture frame in the main chapter and the short following chapter will give details about the receipt for the frame and that is it. Or Yui may be thinking about a book she gave to someone and the following short chapter will give the full title and author of the book and nothing else. Sometimes these interlude chapters were just a few words. Sometimes they were a bit longer, but never really more than a page. Initially, these little interlude chapters seemed very strange to me and not necessarily useful to the story. However, the more I thought about it and the more I read, I started to realize that these ordinary things, these boring every day things like a receipt for a frame or the title of a book, are sometimes the things that can keep us sane while we are in the very depths of pain and grief. Ordinary can become extraordinary and memories, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, can be the things that keep you grounded. As I continued to read, I came to appreciate these odd mini-chapters very much.
  3. I absolutely love knowing that this phone booth really exists.
  4. I think this book might help someone who is experiencing their own grief.
  5. There are a lot of platitudes in this book, and things like that typically bother me; however, in this book they didn’t feel cliché at all. They felt sincere and comforting.
  6. The story is full of beautiful sentences and thoughtful phrases that will make you pause and reflect. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I reread sentences and paragraphs because they were so beautifully written or profound.
  7. I appreciated that one of the characters turned to the Bible as a source of comfort.


  1. I mentioned earlier that this book was written in an incredibly unique way. Besides the mini-chapters, which I came to appreciate, the book is actually written in a very disconnected manner. There is a central story, but you must read the entire book to really appreciate it. While I was reading, I was constantly wondering what was going on. And therein lies the rub. There is nothing really “going on”. There is no action and it isn’t heavy on dialogue. It lacked cohesiveness and timelines were random. You are simply inside someone’s head experiencing vignettes of their thoughts, feelings, their day-to-day life, and how they are coping with their grief. This writing style isn’t inherently bad, but I have this in Cons because the disconnectedness was odd, sometimes confusing, and I just couldn’t help feeling like the book needed a bit more focus. [It has crossed my mind, however, that the randomness and disconnected writing was purposeful, because don’t we all feel a bit disconnected and random when experiencing grief?]

This book is very different from most books I read. It is cerebral. It is sad. It is hard to read at times (because of writing style and theme). But I think it is also a book that many people would appreciate if they give it a chance and stick with it.

This book really made me think about grief and how everyone experiences it and handles it differently. There is no right or wrong. Whether it is to remember and appreciate the little things from the past and/or the present, or whether it is using a disconnected phone booth to speak to your deceased love ones, your grief is unique and how you cope is very personal. And asking for help from others is always okay.

Ultimately, what I loved most about this book is that it is more about hope than loss.

Thank you NetGalley and Abrams/The Overlook Press for providing an ebook, which I have reviewed honestly and voluntarily.  

If you would like to read this book and form your own opinion, please consider purchasing through this link: Buy The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. Thanks!

Click here for a description of my rating scale.

(image from Goodreads)

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