Thursday 27 August 2015

Reviewed: My Everything by Katie Marsh

My Everything will be published by Hodder on August 27, 2015.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review via Bookbridgr.

My Everything is Katie Marsh’s extraordinary debut novel, something that I can’t even fully understand because it read nothing like a first novel. It was delicately written and told an emotional story realistically and without the need for unnecessary drama and twists. The beauty in this novel was how true to life it was – how it so naturally made me smile, laugh, gasp and cry because I could imagine everything taking place in real life, not just fiction, which made me buy into the story and the way everything transpired so much more. The only sign of My Everything being a debut novel, to me, was the excitement I had reading it knowing that there could be many more books to come from this talented new author.

Although they were once madly in love, Hannah has finally made the decision to break up with her husband, Tom. Things haven’t been right between them for a while – he’s making her unhappy, and she can no longer live with that. The opportunity of a teaching placement in Tanzania has made itself available to Hannah and it’s the job of dreams for her. So she plans to break up with Tom and make that her new life. However, on the day Hannah plans to leave Tom, he has a stroke. Hannah is stunned. He’s 32, he’s her husband, she was planning on leaving him…. This couldn’t be happening. But it is, and Hannah now feels trapped. Now Tom needs her more than ever and she can’t bring herself to leave. But will she lose herself along the way?

Ok I loved this novel. Loved it so much. The format of this book was exquisite. The chapters alternate from the present – Tom’s stroke and the aftermath – to the past, the memories of Tom and Hannah’s relationship, the moment they fell in love, the happiness you couldn’t imagine them ever losing. I adored the way this book was told. The chapters set in the past were so genuine, so fun and happy and it really made me connect with both Hannah and Tom and I fell in love with their relationship and found it sad how things had gone so wrong for them. There were so many laughs, so many things to put a smile on my face and everything from the first time Tom found the nerve to say hello to Hannah was beautifully told and made my heart sing. Of course, not all memories are of happy times and Katie adds a few tougher ones in there too which had me fascinated as to how Tom would cope with things, because I wanted him to be brave and fight for his recovery in present time, too.

The chapters set as Tom has his stroke and afterwards were very honest and heart-breaking. It’s quite like one of those things you think will never happen to you, strokes only happen to other, older people and yet that’s not true at all. As Katie puts in her author note, a stroke occurs every three and a half minutes in the UK and though it’s more common to happen to older people, we see in this book that younger people can be affected too. I’ve read about strokes in books before, but never about someone in their thirties having a stroke and I think Tom’s age is what moved me the most because unlike people later in life, he still has all his dreams and career and hopes for the future. He hasn’t had children, he hasn’t yet branched out to further his career with best mate Nick. He hasn’t even fully worked out what he wants from life yet and then he wakes up and realises that they’re far bigger thoughts than he can work with because now he can barely walk, use a knife and fork or unbutton his own shirt. It was so touching and sad to see Tom struggling to come to terms with his stroke and how it had changed his life. I felt like Katie had the choice between keeping things realistic and true or rushing Tom to recovery for the sake of a happy ending. But her writing, for me, showed so much respect and understanding of strokes and survivors of strokes as every bit of Tom’s life following his stroke was believable and forthright but without turning the tone of the book grim.

There’s a small, cosy group of characters in this book and I really appreciated how Katie didn’t fill this book with extra twists and characters because they weren’t needed at all. That also made the theme of Tom’s stroke stand out much more and it had a greater impact on me that way. The characters we do meet are all interesting and entertaining. I loved Hannah and Tom – that was made so easy for me after reading a bit about their history and the early stages of their relationship. But really, Hannah was a commendable woman. Her caring best friend Steph might have been on at her (and I suppose rightly so) about not putting her life on hold for the man she was about to leave, but in the same way I had so much respect for her character and how she was so willing to do anything for anyone. She wouldn’t really entertain the idea of doing anything but being there for Tom unless forced to by her friend and that made me like her all the more. Even though I wanted her to think about herself too, because she never does put herself first, I think I liked and rooted for her more because she did always think about other people before considering what she needed from life. In happier days, Hannah was such a laugh and the chemistry and banter between her and Tom was a joy to read, yet also quite sad when you see how different things became. But I admired Hannah’s character, as I do any person who cares and looks after people who need it through bad health, like Tom does.

There is a supporting story in My Everything which revolves around Tom’s sister, Jules. Jules’ character was strongly written and we really get to see two sides to her from the front she puts up, a bit stand-offish, to the side she has deep-down, full of love for her brother even though she’s hurting from the changes in their relationship from when she was younger. I was just as interested in Julie’s part of this story and it connected and worked perfectly alongside Tom’s battle to recover from his stroke. Another character I can’t not mention is Nick, the best kind of friend to Tom and so realistic. I liked how he was always there to lift Tom’s spirits but also give him a kick when he was in the wrong. I think Katie really explored so beautifully the impact a stroke takes on everyone, not just the people who’ve had them but their family and friends and the effect it has on their lives too.

I really could talk about this book for so much longer. I think it would make a great book club novel because there are so many things you could discuss and questions to ask. Hannah played such an important role in this story and things could have gone in so many different ways for her. There are times when I read a really good book and I smile and then swiftly move onto the next one. But there are also times when I read a wonderful, special book that doesn’t leave me when it’s over, that I can’t stop thinking about. My Everything is the latter and I think Tom and Hannah’s story is one that will stay with me for a long time. Katie Marsh has written a brilliant, emotional debut novel and one that should be racing to the top of all your to-be-read piles.

A highly compelling, emotional story written with such honesty. A fantastic debut.

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