A pleasure today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of When We Say Goodbye by Michelle Vernal. Published on 7th October 2019 by Orion, the book is now available for kindle via Amazon in the UK and US: it’s also available from Apple Books, through Google Play, and for Kobo. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and for forwarding my advance reading e-copy.
I’ve actually been intrigued by the author’s writing for a little while now. I almost got there with The Promise – I really liked the look of that one, but I guess something new and shiny must have come along and I never got round to the reading. Sorry Michelle – but through the joy of blog tours, I’ve now read her latest instead! Let’s take a closer look…
Can you love when all seems lost?
Ellie Perkins’ life was right on track until her boyfriend Sam suffers a near-fatal car accident, leaving him in a coma and all their future plans in limbo.
Desperately in need of something to fix, Ellie has to find a project and when her grandparents old house is put up for sale, she jumps at the chance. Because, like Ellie, the house is broken.
And if she can fix the house, then surely, it’s just a matter of time before she and Sam are back on their path to happily-ever-after…
In life, when the worst happens how do you pick up the pieces?
A heart-breaking story of love, loss and the path to forgiveness, perfect for fans of Faith Hogan and Amanda Prowse. To be read with tissues.
I’ll admit that this was a book that took a little while to draw me in – and that’s a polite way of saying that, for the first 50 or so pages, I really thought it just might not be the book for me. A lot of that was down to the early characterisation of Ellie, who seemed far younger than her age – I found her voice jarred a little, as did her total dependence on her uncle and aunt (with a few too many references to “0800unclecolin” – I might just have blocked her calls). I really did wonder if I could bring myself to care enough about her to follow her emotional journey.
But I’m pleased to report that my initial impression proved wrong. There’s a lot about Ellie that’s not immediately obvious – the background to her time with Sam, her childhood, her fractured relationship with her mother, her involvement with both Sam’s family and her own – and as the layers were slowly uncovered, and the emotional content began to build, I found myself increasingly engaged, the pages turning ever faster (with the occasional interruption to reach for the next tissue… you might just find you need a full box).
It’s essentially a portrait of grief, and finding a way of starting again – but it’s not overly depressing, with plenty of touches of lightness and humour. There are also clever parallels between the renovation of Ellie’s grandparents’ house – her future home – and the way she rebuilds her own life and relationships. There are a number of emotional moments – all nicely handled, all tear-jerking in the way they should be, but never ever mawkish.
What I particularly liked about this book was its supporting cast. There are a large number of characters – Sam’s family in particular, but they all have their quirks and distinguishing features, and that’s so well done. I very much liked Ellie’s relationship with cousin Gemma, one of those larger-than-life, relentlessly upbeat characters, who could so easily have become irritating but instead provides both support and additional depth to the story, as her own life takes a rather unexpected turn.
I really liked Ellie’s relationship with her mother too – at first an unwelcome intrusion in her life, followed by an uncovering of family secrets, with a nice exploration of the dynamics between mother and daughter. I also enjoyed the introduction of the twins and their mother, and the way that part of the story developed – as well as adding a layer of humour, it takes a turn that’s darker and a little more complex than you might expect, and it’s very well-handled.
Do you know, I don’t think I’ve ever read a story set in New Zealand before – I expected Australia-with-a-slightly-different-accent, but it’s actually rather more than that. I was particularly intrigued by the work needed to repair the structural damage caused by the Christchurch earthquake – and the wide open spaces have their part to play in the story too.
I really didn’t expect to be saying so, but I must say I enjoyed this one – although I do think it might have more to offer a rather younger reader. It’s a well told story with satisfying emotional depth, but always keeping its sense of humour, exploring both grief and the complexity of relationships. Nicely done.
About the author
Michelle Vernal loves a happy ending. She lives with her husband and their two boys in the beautiful and resilient city of Christchurch, New Zealand. She’s partial to a glass of wine, loves a cheese scone, and has recently taken up yoga – a sight to behold indeed. She writes books that she hopes make you feel you are curled up with your best friend having a cosy chat.