Tommy Hays, author

What I Came to Tell You, Tommy Hays’ latest novel, is a 2014 VOYA Top Shelf Pick for Fiction for Middle School Readers and a 2015-16 Nominee for the North Carolina Young Adult Award. Written for readers from ages 10 to 100, What I Came to Tell You was a Fall 2013 Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) and selected for the American Booksellers Association’s 2014 ABC Best Books for Children Catalog.

What I Came to Tell You

“Tommy Hays tells a story that rips open your heart. This is a novel about what it means to face loss at an early age, and how salvation comes through both the creation of art and acts of every day kindness. I loved this book.”
—Holly Goldberg Sloan, author of Counting by 7’s and I’ll Be There

“Tommy Hays has quietly but steadily established himself as one of the South’s finest novelists, and now he has written his best book yet. What I Came to Tell You is a great-hearted novel filled with wisdom and truth.”
—Ron Rash, The New York Times best-selling author of Serena

“Hays is a gifted storyteller, offering up an effective balance of credible emotion, understated wisdom, and gentle humor.”
The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)

“Hays makes good use of the novel’s Asheville setting…and Asheville comes across as a cosmopolitan place with a small-town feel. …Hays is especially strong at depicting the network of people, old and young, who help Grover and his family move through their grief and, along the way, save his beloved forest.”
Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

“Just as Grover spends every spare moment in the Bamboo Forest weaving lovely tapestries from natural materials, Hays spins a heartfelt tale in which all the key elements blend beautifully, from memorable characters to the strong sense of a specific Southern place.”
—Julie Bookman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“…a glowing addition to the pantheon of great novels for children.”
—Jennifer Prince, The Asheville Citizen Times

“…a thoughtful, tender look at a family devastated by grief.”
Book Page

“[What I Came to Tell You] offers us a model of a boy who looks to art as a doorway, who processes his pain with nimble fingers and a beating heart, a boy who feels. It shows us that there are lots of different ways to meet the challenges life has in store for us, and that tenderness is not a liability but an asset. It delivers the power of art, in its theme and its execution.”
-Thom Barthelmess, Butler Children’s Literature Center at Dominican University
(For the entire review visit

What I Came to Tell You is the voice of a caring parent, with many to care for, and a winning message of love.”
—Rob Neufeld, The Asheville Citizen-Times

Click to read: A Note From Tommy
(on the origin of What I Came to Tell You)

Since his mother’s death, Grover has been having a hard time. The only thing that gives him solace is the hours he spends working on his art in the beloved bamboo grove near his Asheville home. His overworked father belittles his efforts; he feels his son is wasting his time and throwing his life away.

As tensions within and without the family build to a boiling point, help tiptoes its way into their lives. A mountain family has moved into the cheap rental nearby, and slowly they work their way into Grover’s forest—and his heart. A prickly and independent neighbor proves to be a stalwart pillar to Grover and his little sister. Even the peculiar young man who always lurks around them plays a role in lifting Grover and his family from their paralyzing grief. Finally, it’s Grover’s own unwavering dedication to his art that brings results that neither he nor his family see coming.

Poignant and touching, but with bite, What I Came to Tell You introduces a great talent to children’s books.

To read an excerpt from What I Came to Tell You, click here.

Critical Acclaim for What I Came to Tell You

What I Came to Tell You is as sweet and steely as the best of Southern story-telling, filled with love, loss and heart-warming redemption.”
—Robert Lipsyte, author of The Contender

“I just finished reading What I Came to Tell You, and the title suddenly resonates with significance. This is a story rich with the troubles of love and grief, family and community, but there’s a surprising aura of innocence over all, lifting the novel and its readers into another realm. A rare accomplishment.”
—Josephine Humphreys, author of Nowhere Else on Earth

“Without the use of dragons, zombies, wizards, or vampires, Tommy Hays has written a page-turning tale starring a true-to-life kid on a true-to-life quest to find solace and forgiveness. Twelve-year-old Grover Johnston’s world is simultaneously dangerous (where copperheads curl in Christmas trees) and hopeful (where life is one long last chance). In What I Came to Tell You, Hays has created a memorable story woven, like young Grover’s bamboo “tapestries,” from alternating strands of sorrow and joy. I loved every true-to-life word of this book.”
—Allan Wolf, author of The Watch that Ends the Night

“Rich in its sense of place and soul satisfying, What I Came to Tell You is an affecting tale of loss and rebirth and forgiveness that is sure to please readers of Because of Winn-Dixie
—Lauren Baratz-Logsted, author of Little Women and Me

“Like the artistry of Grover’s weavings in the bamboo forest, Tommy Hays’ What I Came to Tell You captures the heartbeat of a young boy’s journey to find his way after a tragic loss in Thomas Wolfe country in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s a story of learning to listen with your whole heart and head, one filled with grace, grief, and ultimately, hope, as a broken family weaves itself back together in a dazzling tapestry of love and joy.”
—Kerry Madden, author of Gentle’s Holler