Once Upon A Book Club Box July Review
Book box subscriptions are a fun way to celebrate all things bookish. Most book boxes have a different theme each month, some tailored around fandoms or inspired by a book included in the box, but none provide the interactive experience that Once Upon A Book Club box offers.
I signed up for the first OUABC box intrigued by the idea that there would be a surprise book included, along with a handful of wrapped gifts meant to be opened on a specific page in the book. The first example the company used to promote the box was that if you were reading and book and on say, page 211, the story referred to a message in a bottle, one of the gifts you would unwrap could be a bottle with a message inside.
As their website says, “It makes the reader feel as if the book is coming to life.
My July box, the first to be sent out by the company arrived on July 18 and I was immediately enamored with the packaging. The box is designed to look like a book, with a spine and page design on the sides and beautiful writing on the inside.
The book inside was “Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly. This is a book that I would not have selected for myself as I generally find stories during/about WWII and the holocaust to be upsetting. I absolutely believe that we should always be aware of these chapters in history in order to avoid repeating them, but as we seem to be repeating them in our current politics, it’s a worrisome read.
However, I was eager to start the book so that I could unwrap my gifts as the story progressed. Whenever you came to a page where there was a gift to be unwrapped there was a helpful post-it stuck to the page.
For the record, I have to say that I am in awe of the all the work that had to go into creating these boxes: all the post-its placed inside the corresponding pages, the hand wrapped gifts, tying on page number tags, sourcing all the gifts- it’s truly a mind-boggling endeavor.
(Spoilers for the content and associated plot points of Lilac Girls follow)
The first gift was a lovely ring, similar to the one worn by Kasia’s mother in the book. At the point in the story that you are instructed to open your gift, the ring is being forcibly removed from the woman’s finger upon her arrival at a concentration camp.
Receiving the ring in real life as a woman has it taken from her in such a terrible manner felt a bit strange at first. But I chose to feel as though the ring was now in my safe keeping, instead of in the hands of the Nazi guards.
The second gift was an envelope and letter made to be just like the one in the story that Kasia sent to her father. The letter Kasia sends has a secret message about medical experiments in the camp written on it in urine that will be revealed once ironed (heat transforming the acid int he paper) The gift letter has its own secret message, but one that is admittedly unrevealed for me as my iron is buried in a closet somewhere.
The third gift was a pair of socks. This gift was to be opened when Kasia’s sister, Zuzanna, received a secreted gift of a pair of socks from a gentlemen who did repairs in the prison bunk and saw that Zuzanna was sick and shivering. I actually held the socks in my hand for a moment, thinking over what something so simple, something I take for granted would mean during a time when I owned nothing else and when my warmth and safety was elusive.
The fourth gift was a narrow wired blue and white striped scarf. This gift was to be opened as the reader learned about the new arrivals to the camp, the French women who tied their kerchiefs in charming and more fashionable ways, the Russian women who tied their headscarfs in square knots around their neck, and the other myriad of newcomers who were dressed in a variety of leftover clothing as the camp had begun to run out of standard issue uniforms.
The fifth gift was a large patterned envelope, with a black and white picture of children inside. At this point in the story Zuzanna and Kasia are visiting the United States in order to receive medical treatment from top doctors following their years of struggle in Poland after the war. Zuzanna is thinking of staying in the states and adopting a child. I thought this was a cute little gift and interesting moment in the paths the characters would take from that moment forward.
The final gift was to be opened after reading the final page of the story. Inside was a packet of lilac seeds, the perfect way to end the experience and to be reminded of the theme of hope and growth.
There is also an art print of a quote from the book and the back of the print has a list of bookclub questions with a date next to each one so that readers can go on to Instagram and participate in discussions about the book. For the July box all discussion dates are in August, giving readers ample time.
Overall I was pleased that the style of this book box caused me to read outside of my comfort zone, to absorb a story that I otherwise would never have been inclined to pick up. I liked that the opening of gifts spurred me to read on when the difficult nature of the story might have otherwise caused me to stall.
Michelle, the brains behind the box, has said that she intends to keep the books in the subscription strictly women’s/historical fiction for the next few months, with the possibility of expanding into YA in the fall. As she needs to read each potential book in order to make sure it’s a good read and that there are interesting items and moments that lend themselves to gifts it’s a fairly time consuming process. This is also why “Lilac Girls”, a book that was published in April, is the book included and not something that it just now appearing on shelves.
In a time when I have canceled both my Owlcrate and Bookish Box subscriptions due to frequent disappointment in the content, I am extra excited to look forward to my August box.