Review: The A to Z of You and Me

At first I thought I’d made a huge mistake, not in reading the book – not that at all – but in choosing to read it this week. A book about a terminally ill chap in a hospice is perhaps not the best choice of reading matter when someone you’re close to is in a very similar situation. ‘Oh Josephine,’ I heard my twenty-years-in-the-future self saying with a shake of her(my?) head ‘I really do question your 32 year old choices.’

It’s alright, future self, I was kind of questioning those very same choices in the here and now.

The lesson learnt though, is that my instincts are freaking excellent thank-you very much; it turns out that this book was exactly what I needed to read this week, and it’s also really really good.

I won’t lie: I went into it thinking it was a book about cancer (it’s not a book about cancer) and that it was a book about a terminally ill man (it’s not a book about a terminally ill man. Or rather it is if all you want to do is look at the surface) and that it was going to break my already fragile heart in the way that Queenie or TFiOS did. It didn’t do that. What it did instead, was open my eyes to a thoughtful, careful and intelligent book, by a guy who I am absolutely going to be keeping an eye on in the future (and I mean that in a ‘let’s keep our eyes peeled for any future works’ and not ‘crazy ass stalker type,’ just to be clear.)

This book is a good book. It’s sad and funny and sometimes frustrating, it’s got a clear concise narrative and you know another thing: it’s really damn clever. It’s nice isn’t it, to read something that’s different, a fresh take on a popular ‘trope’ and in the same way that Rachel Joyce did it with Harold Fry and then again with Queenie, James Hannah has taken the ‘person dying in a hospice’ theme and turned it on his head.

Ivo’s telling his story through a game invented by his nurse Sheila (who I totes love) who, being excellent at her job, is trying to keep him distracted from the fact that he’s well, probably going to die fairly soon – he has to think of a memory for each part of his body, from A to Z -  and the way he does that, moves from Adam’s Apple onwards allows for the story to unfold at a pace that feels real and raw and honest; it’s disjointed and muddled, it moves from Ivo’s childhood, to his teenage years, to a decade ago with the love of his life and back again and at the same time you have these snippets of what his life has become, life in the hospice where he can hear the rattling breathing of the lady in the room next door and has pushed away everyone who ever cared about him and struck up a curious friendship with a girl who is losing her Mother. It’s poignant, sure, but it’s absolutely not overly sentimental. I think that’s kind of what I liked: Ivo isn’t perfect. He’s made bad choices and poor decisions and a fair old mess of his life to a certain degree; it wouldn’t be unfair to say that had he taken a different road he might have found himself in a different place. His family and his friends, they’re not great either, in fact the whole cast of characters is pretty flawed. I loved that. I loved that this book was brave enough to tell Ivo’s story and that whilst the setting for Ivo’s narration is a hospice bed, at it’s heart this is a real life story about a guy who got stuck on the wrong path: it’s about regret and redemption, about anger and loss and love and about how easy it is to find yourself in a place you never thought you’d be with little idea how to make your way back.  It’s a book that makes you think about the choices you make every single day, because when you reach the end of your life, what do you want to be looking back on, and who do you want to be surrounded by? Life is short, and fleeting and precious and every day, every fucking minute, it counts and James Hannah makes that point exceptionally well, even though he might not sugarcoat it, and his characters might not be folk that you sympathise with easily. I loved this book, I loved the way the story unfolded and I love the way it made me think and feel. I am so glad I read it, even this week.

The A to Z of You and Me is out now (it was published yesterday in fact) which is great news because it means you don’t have to wait before you can buy a copy. WOOP WOOP.

Also, look at that cover. So much pretty, right? I love it.