I didn’t know a lot about this book before starting to read it, just that it had been recommended by several friends. For some reason I’d got it into my head that this was going to be a cheerful book, I was wrong. It has got moments of humour within it however, and the overall message is hopeful. It follows the story of Elly (the narrator) from childhood through to her adult life. The sections of her youth were well described, things seen as they would have been from a child’s point of view, which can seem humourous to an adult reader. There are a few moments that I felt were somewhat unrealistic however, that you just wouldn’t expect a child to have any interest in, or understanding of.
One of the main themes of the book is relationships. Elly’s relationship with her brother, her best friend Jenny Penny, and also with the various adult members of her family. It examines the importance of such relationships, and how they change and develop as people grow. It made me appreciate how important the relationship with siblings is for those who have them; whether you get on well with them or not, they have an understanding of your life that nobody else shares, growing up with you, sharing experiences, and making sense of the world together. We see Elly grow, and have to deal with her brother growing into a young adult, wanting relationships (something which I think can be quite hard for many siblings; suddenly there is someone else taking their attention, someone who could hurt them that you want to protect them from), and having to help him through heartbreak, and the pain of growing up.
We also see her relationship with Jenny change over the years, as they learn things about each other’s childhoods that they couldn’t have understood as children. Although their lives pan out so very differently they retain a bond that never leaves them. This sense of understanding with age also comes with her parents. There comes a time in everyone’s life where they start thinking about the people their parents were before they existed, that they had their own lives, that they have their own secrets and worries, and all this is brought out wonderfully in this novel.
There were moments where I thought it felt as though all these different things wouldn’t happen in an average person’s life, but then realised that actually they weren’t that extraordinary, and that we all go through a lot of similar events that bring us into adulthood (though I don’t imagine people all have the same important events throughout life, everybody has their own history, their own particular story that shapes the adult they become). I liked the fact the author brings in real life news stories and links them into the story, whether they be central to the story or not. We know what year we are in throughout, and so it seems right that they are mentioned, and woven into the fabric of the story.
All in all a great debut novel, although I found my attention wavering at points it generally kept me hooked with a wide range of interesting characters, a story most people can relate to in some way, a series of quite remarkable events that keep you wanting to turn the page, and a rather lovely writing style, I look forward to seeing what Sarah Winman comes up with next.