Monday, 29 July 2019

Book Review: The Year that Changed Everything

Three women living completely separate lives celebrate important birthdays on the same day. As Ginger faces a wedding from hell on her thirtieth birthday, Sam has just delivered her long-awaited baby on her fortieth and Callie’s life turns upside down mid lavish party on her fiftieth. All of them go through a year that justifies the novel’s title The Year That Changed Everything, by writer Cathy Kelly.

One year is actually a pretty tight timeline in which to cover the diverse number of issues that Kelly’s characters encounter. Themes such as infertility and post-natal depression, growing up without a mother, self-consciousness, hoarding, addiction, a narcissistic spouse and over-due reconciliations are all on the agenda in this strictly commercial story; one that hinges on the idea of the three protagonists becoming stronger women by the end of it.

The book received mostly good to glowing reviews by readers but from an author’s point of view I have to say that it was too formulaic as well as lacking that edge. It flits from one woman’s tale to the next as well as between timelines, in a bid to keep the reader abreast of all the storylines at once. Whilst this technique worked well in The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins) and even The Girl Before (JP Delaney), here it suffered from a lack of knowledge on how to handle what turns into an extreme switching game, taking us on a dizzy ride that stopped the flow any time it was picking up. Speaking of ‘picking up’, the lack of cliffhangers and constant to and fro don’t make for a book you look to pick up and continue.

I do feel the author gave enough background for each story to function properly as well as stand in its own right. In fact, despite running parallel to each other, the stories only converge at the end.  This, together with some very unexpected twists and turns, is what scores the book some points. However the characters themselves are at times almost stereotypical and yet not exactly believable. I wonder at the speed with which Callie’s daughter switches mindset about the life situation they find themselves in, just as I wonder would a real mother act like Callie’s after so many years of no-contact. Ginger meanwhile, seems to me to be two totally different characters at different times, much as though the author did not really decide beforehand whether she is a tough cookie or not beneath it all. In fact, main character Sam and her sister Joanne seem to be the best-constructed of the lot, with Sam’s loved-up husband and her doting dad rounding up the acceptable cast.

This book screams chick lit through and through. It makes an interesting story when you’re up for a light read but I would never class it as re-readable. So enjoy it for what it is: a story with a fairytale ending, that roots for females who stick up for each other and makes one feel that in life, perception is the key to happiness. After all, the author may have gotten that part right.

This book was kindly provided by Agenda Book Shop.

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