It’s an absolute pleasure today to join the blog tour for Em & Me by Beth Morrey, and to share my review. Published by HarperCollins on 3rd February, it’s now available as an ebook on all major platforms, in hardcover, and as an audiobook. My thanks to Susanna Peden at HarperFiction for the invitation and support, and for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
Beth’s debut, Saving Missy, was one of my books of the year in 2021. It had an exceptionally engaging main character in Missy Carmichael – and that perfect emotional touch, with moving moments of sadness and loss, but beautifully balanced with humour and lightness (you’ll find my full review here). So when I heard that Em & Me was on its way, I was particularly looking forward to seeing what the author did next…
A secret waiting to be discovered.
For too long – since the sudden death of her mother as a teenager, since the birth of her daughter, Em, when she was just seventeen – Delphine has been unable to let go of the past, obsessed with protecting Em and clinging to a secret that could ruin everything. She’s been living life in safe shades of grey.
The day that Delphine finally stands up for herself is the day that changes everything.
Delphine begins to remember what it’s like to want more: rediscovering her singing voice, opening herself to friendship, and reviving not only her mother’s roots, but her mother’s memories. As her life begins to fill with colour, can she be brave for herself and for Em? And what would happen if she finally told the truth?
A big-hearted, hopeful novel about finding second chances – and taking them.
Producing a second book with the uplifting qualities and emotional impact of Saving Missy must have been an immense challenge – and it must have been a tremendous temptation to remain in similar territory, with a quirky older heroine and the interactions that change the direction of her life. But the author didn’t do that – instead her heroine is Delphine, a young mother struggling with life, wanting only to make sure that her daughter Em has the opportunities that evaded her when she became pregnant at 16 and had to give up on her own hopes and dreams.
Em has the same love of books and passion for life that her mother once had – until her life took a series of turns that forced a change of course. One of those was the loss of her vibrant French mother – and as well as daughter Em, she now cares for her father who has withdrawn from life and is still consumed by grief many years later. There’s very little money – and things take a turn for the worse when she loses her barista job at the cafe and her main source of income. But another opportunity comes up – working as a waitress at Merhaba, her daughter’s favourite coffee shop run by a wonderful Eritrean couple who show her real kindness – and she begins to really live her life rather than going through the motions, rediscovering the strength within her that she’d kept buried for so long.
This whole book is packed with the most wonderful characters, and moments that you feel in your heart. The relationship between Delphine and Em is quite beautifully drawn, and you can feel the love between them – and Em herself is a very real teen but with the wisdom at times of someone twice her age, sometimes rather better at adulting than her mother. The situation with her grieving father is wonderfully drawn too – the emotional connection between them, his inability to cope with his memories, the exchanges and interactions that tear at your heart. But as Delphine begins to live her life, a whole cast of characters cross her path and enable her to change and grow. Her former English teacher Roz becomes a friend and urges her on when she decides to return to her studies and get the qualifications she missed out on – and she introduces her to Sanjay and Dylan, who in turn invite her to sing with their band (I really loved this storyline…), belting out the classic songs that her mother loved. And then there’s Letty – an elderly (and rather outrageous – but magnificent) lady who finds Delphine when looking for someone with whom to practice her French conversation, and helps extend the narrowed boundaries of her life.
Emotionally, this book is simply perfect – there were certainly times I cried, but there are also times when it’s extremely funny (often involving Letty), and the whole story has exceptional warmth, overflowing with love and uplifting moments that can’t help but bring a smile to your face and an ache to your heart. I engaged particularly strongly with Delphine, urging her on when her courage sometimes wavered, desperately wanting her life to continue improving, wanting her to live her best life. I enjoyed too the insights into Delphine’s early life – the experiences that shaped her and took away her confidence, woven quite perfectly into the story, only making you feel for her even more. And every single relationship in this book is beautifully drawn, along with the impact the individuals have on her life – the supportive friendships, the challenges and fierce love of family, along with the beginnings of a romance I really believed in.
This is such a life-affirming read, inspiring and full of hope, quite beautifully written, and I loved every moment – recommended very highly to all.
About the author
Beth Morrey was inspired to write her debut novel, Saving Missy, while pushing a pram around her local park during maternity leave. Getting to know the community of dog owners, joggers, neighbours and families, she began to sow the seeds of a novel about a woman saved by the people around her, strangers who became friends.
Previously Creative Director at RDF Television, Beth now writes full time. She was previously shortlisted for the Grazia-Orange First Chapter award, and had her work published in the Cambridge and Oxford May Anthologies while at university.
Beth lives in London with her husband, two sons and a dog named Polly.