Do not miss me, because I will always be with you…I am the air, the moon, the stars. For we are all made of stars, my beloved. Wherever you look, I will be there.
Stella Carey exists in a world of night. Married to a war veteran who has returned from Afghanistan brutally injured, she leaves the house each night as Vincent locks himself away, unable to sleep due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. During her nursing shifts, Stella writes letters for her patients, detailing their final wishes, thoughts and feelings – from how to use a washing machine, to advice on how to be a good parent – and posts them after their death. That is until Stella writes one letter that she feels compelled to deliver in time, to give her patient one final chance of redemption…
Whenever I pick up a book by Rowan Coleman, my critical faculties seem to escape me. With almost every other author, I can stand back and think “I liked x and y, but I’d have preferred it if z had been done differently”: with Rowan’s books (including the ones by Scarlett Bailey) I just turn all fan-girl, and gush embarrassingly. I also get really excited when there’s a new book out – We Are All Made Of Stars is published by Ebury Press on 21st May in hardcover and for kindle (anyone wanting a paperback will have to wait until 22nd October…). I received an advance reading e-copy a couple of months ago via netgalley and the publishers (thank you both), and my restraint in not reading it way ahead of publication (and also avoiding the reviews of those who gave in to their urges…) is something I’m really rather proud of! So, was it worth waiting for? The answer is a resounding “yes”.
In essence, this is a book that deals with immense sadness but is really never too dark or depressing. Stella and Vince’s story is a real emotional roller coaster, and Stella herself a character you really grow to love as she writes the wonderful letters for dying patients while struggling with her own living nightmare. Her pain and confusion is so wonderfully done, as is her empathy for those she cares for – but I will admit that I found Vince a little harder to engage with at an emotional level, probably because his issues were more unfamiliar.
The book has a wonderful cast of characters in addition to Stella and Vince. I loved Hope – her young life likely to be limited by cystic fibrosis – and wonderful faithful friend Ben. Their whole story is infused with love and humour, very real people both trying to find a way. Hugh was also a fascinating character, with his ironic bow tie and beautiful relationship with Sarah and young Mikey next door. I adored the way their friendship developed – enhanced by Mikey discovering Hugh is an “orphan”, with the bonding over computer games. And as for Jake the cat… one of the best characters in the book, drawing all the story threads together so cleverly, and a great creation for someone whose preference for dogs is well known.
Earlier this year I looked at Anna McPartlin’s The Last Days Of Rabbit Hayes – also set in a hospice, but a very different story. This book gave me the same sense of pure joy – against a background where you’d expect it to be absent. I’ve mentioned before that one of the things I love about Rowan Coleman’s writing is her ability to balance effortlessly the sadness and the humour: the letters that are reproduced throughout the book show that so perfectly, and I laughed out loud at times, while wiping away a tear.
This is a book that looks closely at love, loss, hope, and forgiveness: the focus is sometimes hard to bear, but there is always a smile waiting not too far behind. This was a quite beautiful read, and I’d recommend it most highly.
Rowan Coleman worked in bookselling and publishing for seven years before winning Company Magazine Young Writer of the Year in 2001. Her first novel Growing Up Twice was published in 2002 and was a WHS Fresh Talent winner. Since then Rowan has written ten novels for women including The Accidental Mother, The Baby Group and Dearest Rose, which won The Festival of Romance Best Romantic Read 2012, The RoNA Epic Romance novel of 2013 and was shortlisted for the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year 2013. Rowan now lives in Hertfordshire with her husband, and large family of four children, including surprise toddler twins. Rowan is often quite tired.