It’s such a pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for Unbreak Your Heart, the latest book from the wonderful Katie Marsh, and sharing my review. Published by Hodder & Stoughton, it was published on 27th May as an ebook (on all major platforms) and in paperback, with the audiobook to follow on 10th June. My thanks to Niamh Anderson at Hodder for the invitation and support, and to the publishers both for the early proof copy and for approving my request for a reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
If you’ve read Katie Marsh’s books before, and loved them as I have – you can read my reviews of A Life Without You here, This Beautiful Life here, and The Rest of Me here – I expect you’ll have been looking forward to this one every bit as much as I was. If you haven’t read her books before… well, all I can say is that they just keep getting better and better. Her books shatter your heart, move you to tears, make you feel so deeply for her characters – but also fill your heart with love, make you smile, and leave you entirely uplifted and joyful. So I had my tissues ready… and after a three year wait, I was really so looking forward to this one.
One boy’s wish. One extraordinary love story.
Seven-year-old Jake’s heart is failing and he doesn’t want to leave his dad, Simon, alone. So he makes a decision: to find Simon someone to love before he goes.
Beth is determined to forget the past. But even when she leaves New York to start afresh in a Lake District village, she can’t shake the secrets that haunt her.
Single dad Simon still holds a candle for the woman who left him years ago. Every day is a struggle to earn a living while caring for his beloved son. He has no time for finding someone new.
But Jake is determined his plan will succeed – and what unfolds will change all three of them forever.
I’ve said it several times before, but I think I must say it again – Katie Marsh has a gift for handling emotion in her writing that I’ve rarely experienced through any other writer. The three main characters in this book entirely captured my heart – nurse Beth looking for a fresh start in the Lakes having left New York after the break-up of her marriage and bruised by an traumatic incident that’s taken away her confidence, Simon the struggling father to seven-year-old Jake with his life-limiting heart condition. After a particularly difficult first encounter – when Beth knocks Jake off his bike, and Simon reacts with understandable ferocity – she moves into the cottage next door, their lives begin to entwine, and they slowly grow closer.
Jake has a particular awareness of the seriousness of his condition – and something of an obsession with ensuring that his father finds a partner, someone to love when he’s gone, and his efforts provide much of the humour (and acute embarrassment at times) early in the book. Simon, unable to work as a physio because of the unpredictability of Jake’s condition, is struggling financially as well as emotionally – his wife Tamsin was unable to cope and walked away, but he cherishes the hope that one day she might return. But he does have one close friend in Barney, who has been there for him through every crisis – but it only increases Simon’s anguish when he knows he’ll need to let him down on his special day as the date approaches for a critical operation that might change the course of Jake’s life. Friendship features heavily for Beth too – Jas helps her rebuild her life, gives her a job and a sofa to sleep on, offers her a shoulder to cry on along with her own wry observations on life’s twists and turns.
This is one of those books that gives me an almost irresistible urge to tell you the whole story – but I won’t, and instead I’ll try to focus on how it made me feel, and that’s largely down to the characters themselves. Jake isn’t the tragic little figure you might expect him to be – he’s full of mischief, with a zest for life and a sense of fun, but sometimes with a wisdom and insight beyond his years. And then he’ll get excited about his Lego, or an afternoon with his grandfather and the dogs, the possibility of scoring a goal for the school football team, or an afternoon in a kayak – and he’s a very real and lovable child, just dealing with the most enormous challenges. His letters to his young friend Emily are interspersed through the story – he met her on one of his hospital stays, as she fought the same heart condition, he shares with her his hopes and fears, and it will break your heart.
There’s a strong and believable slow-burn romance – two damaged and vulnerable people in Simon and Beth, whose support for each other has the potential to develop into something more, but with considerable obstacles along the way. The story is told in third person but from both their viewpoints, and takes you right inside the characters – you share their thoughts and feelings, all their emotional twists and turns, feel everything they do at your core, become part of their lives. There’s a strong focus on fatherhood too – not only through Simon and Jake’s particularly special relationship, but in his interactions with his own father, their relationship a particularly difficult one.
It’s a book filled with moments – lightness and laughter (and there’s plenty of that – this really isn’t the heavy emotional read you might be expecting) followed by small twists that stab you to the heart and entirely take your breath away. And it’s a story largely driven by its characters, real, complex, and flawed – but equally so by the relentless approach of the crucial operation with its uncertain outcome. The setting plays its part too – exceptionally well drawn, the village and the wildness of the fells, providing both solace and escape, and far more than a backdrop to the unfolding story.
Once more, Katie Marsh has written an unforgettable and immensely moving story – this is a book that can’t fail to move you, and have you in helpless tears through its sadder moments. But it’s also quite gloriously joyful in so many ways, uplifting and life-affirming, and fills your heart with love. Very highly recommended – and one of my books of the year.
About the author
Katie had a ten-year NHS career before leaving to write full-time, and her novels are inspired by the bravery of the people she met in hospitals and clinics across the country. She lives in the countryside with her family, and is the author of four novels, including the 2018 World Book Night pick My Everything and the e-book bestseller A Life Without You.
She loves strong coffee, the promise of a blank page and stealing her husband’s toast.