19 February 2015

Book Review: The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin

"Here is a truth that can’t be escaped: for Mia ‘Rabbit’ Hayes, life is coming to an end . . .

Rabbit Hayes loves her life, ordinary as it is, and the extraordinary people in it.

She loves her spirited daughter, Juliet; her colourful, unruly family; the only man in her big heart, Johnny Faye.

But it turns out the world has other plans for Rabbit, and she’s OK with that. Because she has plans for the world too, and only a handful of days left to make them happen. Here is a truth that won’t be forgotten: this is a story about laughing through life’s surprises and finding the joy in every moment."

Rating: 5/5

You can buy The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes as a paperback or an eBook now.

For some reason, I haven't yet had a chance to read anything by Anna McPartlin. I requested a copy of her latest book The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes on Netgalley a few months ago now, and it got pushed back the influx of festive reads that flooded my Kindle in November and December. Finally, in early January I decided to give it a try. I had heard it was a very emotional book, but I thought I was prepared for that when I started reading. Well, I wasn't. It made me cry - not pretty tears either but wracking great sobs, tears pouring down my face. Yet through the sadness, it was an utterly brilliant read, and one I can't hesitate to recommend.

Rabbit Hayes is dying. She's got terminal cancer, and there really isn't long left for her on this planet. She knows it, her family knows it, but that doesn't make the fact any easier to deal with. Rabbit moves into a hospice, somewhere she can get the care she needs in her last few weeks, but her family are struggling to deal with this fact. Her father is in denial about her condition, her mother more accepting but still determined that a miracle can happen and that Rabbit won't die after all. Rabbit's young daughter Juliet doesn't want to contemplate reality without her mother, but is finding it hard to copy. Rabbit has had a life of love, fun and music, and in her last few days wants to relive as many memories and spend as much time with her loved ones as possible.

As you can probably tell from the blurb for this story, it is incredibly sad. It's no secret that Rabbit is dying, that much is made clear from the start of the book but it doesn't make it any easier to come to terms with. Even though Rabbit is a fictional character, so many stories like this are rooted in reality, and you cannot help but relate it to yourself and your own family as you're reading - how would you cope if you were in Rabbit's shoes, or her parents, or siblings?  It's a horrid, unbearable thought but as I was reading, I couldn't help think about these questions, and it does make it all the emotional and poignant to read. Someone out there is going through what Rabbit is, and it's a heart-breaking reality, one that you feel so badly for for Rabbit and her family.

I loved the character of Rabbit. She seems very accepting about her fate - perhaps it is the fact she is in immeasurable pain and sees her imminent demise as a release, but equally she is struggling with the reality of leaving her young child behind, without a father, and how Juliet will cope once she has gone. This, for me, was the hardest part of the story. I was in tears reading many parts of this book related to this mother/daughter relationship, and as a parent, you don't want to leave your kids behind without you to protect them. Rabbit was facing this very fate, and it was a heart-breaking one, it was so well written that you were feeling Rabbit and Juliet's emotions along with them, as well as thinking how I would cope were I in her situation, it's an unbearable thought.

The relationships between Rabbit and her parents were also well written. The pair love their daughter very much, and struggle to deal with her drifting away in front of their eyes. For me, I found Rabbit's father Jack's bit of the book the most emotional of all - he simply could not imagine his life without his youngest daughter in it. He's in an almost state of denial, and I was honestly moved to tears by McPartlin's writing of his grief and sorrow at losing his daughter, it was just heart-breaking. No parent should have to deal with losing their child yet that is what poor Jack and Molly (Rabbit's mother) have to deal with. I kept putting myself in Molly's shoes - how she had the strength to go on was beyond me, I think I would have crumbled long ago. Rabbit's sister Grace and her brother Davey are also present, dealing with the grief and shock in their own ways, each struggling with Rabbit's illness.

The modern day story of Rabbit in the hospital, and her family coming to terms with her terminal illness takes place over just 9 days. For a book, that is a very short amount of time, but it works because of the nature of the plot, and I almost didn't want to read about Rabbit's suffering for any longer than that. It was believable too, reading about the deterioration of Rabbit, and the progression of the cancer. As well as this story, we also get flashbacks of Rabbit's life, and more importantly her relationship with Johnny, the one love of her life. We see the relationship grow from children, to adulthood, through to when Johnny became ill as well. McPartlin handles this part of the story with such respect and tenderness, and also see Rabbit on the other side of the coin - as a carer and dealing with the potential loss of someone she loves, rather than as the patient and sufferer. Their story was heart-warming, touching and incredibly sad at the same time, a real eye-opener to see Rabbit before she got sick, and how full of life she really was.

This was a book that I know will stay with me long after I have read it. I've seen it likened to Jojo Moyes 'Me Before You', and I would say that is somewhat true. Obviously Rabbit isn't choosing to die, unlike the main story in Me Before You but still, her death is imminent and a burden her family must bear. Heart-breaking and incredibly sad, The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes is a triumph - a beautifully written and considerate novel about one of the cruellest diseases and how it can break a loving family, leaving those left behind devastated and broken in it's wake. McPartlin's writing is simply brilliant, drawing you into the world of Rabbit and the Hayes family, each dealing with Rabbit's dying in their own way, showing there is no right or wrong way to deal with and grieve for those we have lost. Thought-provoking, insightful and full of love, The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes is a stunning read.

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