Alice is living the life she always dreamed of: no ties, no constraints and no worries. An intrepid travel writer, her life is one of carefree adventure, full of spa days, dinner parties and self-indulgence. Virginia finally has everything she ever wanted. The loving husband, the beautiful daughter and the successful career. Life hasn't always been easy, but she knows now that her family can weather any storm and come through it stronger. Best friends since university, the two women are unlikely allies, but theirs is a bond that runs deep - so much so that Virginia trusts Alice with all she holds dearest. Then tragedy strikes, and Alice finds she must honour a rash promise she made to her friend. Embarking upon a journey, with no guide book, she is forced to reassess her dreams, and soon Alice realises that the greatest adventures can be the ones you least expect - and that sometimes it's the people you think you know best who hold the most closely guarded secrets..
Writing duo Annie Ashworth and Meg Sanders who collectively make up Annie Sanders have been very successful so far, they've written a massive 10 non-fiction titles and 8 fiction titles, most of which I've really enjoyed. When I first saw the cover of their new book, and the break away from their old style cartoon covers, I was a bit surprised. It did make this book look a bit more generic and like a lot of other books out there, but when it was suggested to me that it could be due to the more serious subject matter, I wondered if that could be the case and decided to read the book and see for myself. I did like the cover, but I do find it a tad misleading as I feel the girl in the book is a lot older than the picture on the front would have you believe, at least in the main story, but that's a small thing in the scheme of things really!
Firstly I have to say this book very much reminded me of Dorothy Koomson's brilliant novel My Best Friend's Girl. That too was about a woman who is suddenly left to look after her friends daughter and the struggle with a single woman suddenly becoming a mother to a fully grown child and the effect that had on her life. However, while the storyline idea was the same, it felt very different reading it, and they certainly didn't seem copies of each other to me. The book takes an important look at not just motherhood, but the fact that it doesn't necessarily matter what your biological link to a child is, its how you love, care and respect them that counts in the long run, and I love how the relationship between Alice and Scarlett is ever changing in the book, and consequently felt very realistic as I read along, hoping it'd all turn out for the best for everyone involved.
I really enjoyed the way Sanders chose to narrate the novel. We have 2 stories running simultaneously - the present day story of Alice finding out about the death of her beloved friend, introducing Scarlett into her life and the consequent actions that happen because of that, and in between this was the story of Virginia and her husband's romance, their struggle for a baby and their life with Scarlett up until the day of their death. It was an easy book to follow, and because you get to know Virginia and her struggle to conceive as the book progresses, Scarlett becomes an even more important character and it is touching to read snippets of Virginia's life with her, it's very emotional to read in parts. Alice is written truthfully - a woman struggling to know what to do with an almost teenager thrust into her life and I felt sorry for her, she seemed to be in a no-win situation and did the best she could with Scarlett at all times.
The ending of the book brings with it a huge surprise that I never saw coming in a million years, and I love it when an author can pull that out of the bag after the reader having read several hundred pages already without a hint of what is to come! It certainly spun the book on its head for me, gave it a whole new perspective and I love that Sanders kept this reveal until the end, it was fantastic. The book was really well written as a whole, and I found the narrative so easy to read, getting through chapters at a time as I just didn't want to put it down whenever I was reading it. As a parent reading this, I found it a very emotional book, wondering how I would feel if the worst happened to me and what would become of my son, and I am sure it'll strike a chord with every parent out there, and leaving some sort of contingency in place were the worst to happen to them too.
It's a tricky subject matter but one Annie Sanders has handled perfectly, and woven a superb around too. With a set of extremely likeable characters, from the straight-laced Virginia, dedicated best friend Alice to the gay best friend Vince and very confused teen-to-be Alice, there is something there for everyone to love and the touching emotional story at the heart of it will surely pull on the heart strings of every reader. I also love the irony of the title - of course parenthood always comes without a manual and this book shows that, but shows how special and precious children can be even through the hardest and darkest times. It was an absolute joy to read, and I whole-heartedly recommend it to everyone. Brilliant.
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review.