13 February 2017

Book Review: All I Ever Wanted by Lucy Dillon

"Nancy is four, nearly five. She talks all the time: in the car, on the way to nursery, to her brother, to her collection of bears. And then one day everything changes. Nancy's mum and dad split up, her father moves across the country, and Nancy stops talking.

Eva is forty-four, nearly forty-five. She always knew marrying a much older man meant compromises, but she was sure it was worth it – until Mickey dies suddenly, leaving Eva with only his diaries and a voice in the back of her mind telling her that perhaps she's sacrificed more than she meant to.

While Nancy's parents negotiate their separation, the question of weekend contact is solved when her father volunteers his sister Eva's house. As spring turns to summer, a trust slowly begins to form between a little girl with a heartbreaking secret, and a woman who has realised too late that what she yearns for is the love of a child."

Rating: 4/5

I am a massive Lucy Dillon fan, and was thrilled when I got the opportunity to read her latest book All I Ever Wanted via Netgalley earlier this year. I love Lucy's emotional, heart-wrenching stories, and I had a feeling this one would be no different. This is the story of Caitlin, Patrick and their family, and how their actions affect everyone around them. Their marriage is in dire straits, and this has devastated their children, especially four year old Nancy, who stops talking after some traumatic events at home. The family try everything to persuade her to talk, but nothing is working. Patrick's sister Eva is getting over her own heartbreak, after suddenly losing her husband Mickey, and finding herself all alone, with only his pugs for company. Eva decides she needs to get know her brothers children better, and becomes part of Patrick's visitation agreement to see the kids, a time she surprises herself by enjoying. But Eva is very aware she's left it too late to have her own children, so she's determined to unlock whatever it is that has deeply upset her niece once and for all...

As you can see, this is certainly a very emotional book, and straight away you grow to love the two children at the centre of this book, particularly lovely Nancy. Her big brother Joel is a delight too, and I felt Dillon has hit the nail on the head with her depiction of young children, something I don't always feel is correctly portrayed in women's fiction. The relationship the pair have with their mother and father is close, but the pair are devastated by their parents separation. Of course, many families break-up, and this book strives to show a reality here, but I felt so sorry for the children here. Nancy is hiding a terrible secret, one which causes her to become a mute, and this was a devastating storyline. As things become unravelled near the end of the book, my heart broke a little bit as I read the reasons behind her choice to be a mute.

The main adult characters are all very interesting to read about. There's Caitlin, who has devoted herself to being a good mother, upset at the demise of her marriage, and unsure how to move forward without Patrick. He is portrayed as being a workaholic, someone who pays too much attention to his job and his phone, not to his family, but I somehow really wanted the pair of them to work it out and be a couple again. Caitlin was likeable, she was trying to the right thing by everyone, but feeling like she was failing on all accounts. I felt like we were meant to dislike Patrick, but I just couldn't - I personally felt he was caught between a rock and a hard place, and any working parent knows the guilt you feel constantly at trying to juggle all the balls and keep them all in the air.

Eva's story, however, was the most interesting. In her mid-forties, Eva thinks she has left it too late to have her own children, and the initial awkwardness between her and her niece and nephew was quite awful, she really didn't know how to be around them! As the book progressed and Eva finds out more about the past of her husband, the man she thought she knew inside out, she starts to doubt her own life and the choices she's made. She lives a comfortable life in a gorgeous home, with a couple of cute pugs to boot, but always feels there is something missing. I felt her story was a very realistic look at someone who has perhaps not realised what she truly wants until it is too late, and I very much enjoyed reading Eva's story.

This book has lots of different things going on within, from love and hope, to grief, closure and loss, it certainly isn't always an easy read. I found Nancy's story in particular hard to read, and as someone who works with young children, I know how tricky it can be to unravel these things, and I just wished I could reassure Caitlin and Patrick that Nancy would eventually be okay. Dillon has clearly done her research for the character of Nancy, and it was wonderful, and also heart-breaking to read. My emotions were all over the place - I felt sorry for Caitlin, then felt annoyed with her for being a bit flaky, and not taking responsibility for her actions; sympathy for Patrick, then annoyance at the way he had to take charge all the time. I loved that an author could evoke this many emotions in me for one book. This wasn't my favourite book from Lucy Dillon, but for me is still a must-read, and highly recommended. An emotional rollercoaster for sure.

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