This book absolutely blew me away – beautifully written, staying well on the right side of mawkish (Emma is a lovely young character, and her naive viewpoint gives the book a beautifully light touch, with touches of welcome humour at times), an incredibly moving story of love and depressive illness and loss and the impacts on a family.
There aren’t any spoilers in telling that one of Emma’s brothers dies – the Amazon description says that much. She’s a character you’ll love – overweight, bullied at school, trying to find a way to survive in a world where everything she depended on has fallen apart and where the environment she’s chosen (her Christian Union meetings) has turned hostile. One of her brothers is dead, the other (Jamie) is living elsewhere – but there’s a story here that slowly, unrelentingly and compellingly unfolds.
I loved the style. Emma’s social gaucheness is very real and recognisable: the Jamie chapters are painful; the chapters for Rose, the mother, come as a surprise and are an incredibly poignant picture of a fractured family. I know the letters from Jamie to his father in the centre of the book haven’t delighted everyone as a device, building to a climax, but I thought it was perfectly judged. As was the ending – I was aching by that point (I read the book in two long sittings) and I really loved it.
This is a highly accomplished first novel, treading that difficult path across one of life’s most difficult subjects with an ease and lightness of style that others could learn from. I thoroughly adored it – one of my books of the year so far.