When the going gets tough, the tough get going... far, far away from the trouble.
Grace is reluctantly participating in a 5k race when she receives the news: her estranged sister is calling to tell her their estranged father has had a stroke. That's two lots of estrangement in just two generations of family, but a summons is a summons, and Grace soon finds herself dragged back into the heart of the family she deserted, working with the others to discover the many hidden secrets of the father who deserted them all. It's a tough jump from her happy life of a good job, a new boyfriend and a home of her own to return to the family life she left behind a long time ago, and Grace has to decide whether she can ignore the pull of her biological siblings once more or whether the time has come to let bygones be bygones. After all, while there are lots of four letter words she would associate with her family, love is not one of them.
I read the blurb on the back, looked at the cover art, and had a good idea what this book was going to be about. At least, I thought I did, because the story turned out nothing like I expected. It was crazier than I had imagined, had a strong Californian element I had not anticipated, and roared off in an entirely unpredictable direction but rather than these being turn offs for me, I loved the book. The story is simply smashing, and by the end I couldn't imagine it any other way.
The title is remarkable in the way it takes what can sometimes be irritating traits and makes them endearing. While books that jump around too much without clear pointers in the story can be annoying at times, the scatty approach works well in this novel. Grace, our narrator, can flip from the present (her father is dying now) to the past (her mother was dying then) without so much as a moment's thought, and although the first few times it takes a moment to get used to, as you re-read a paragraph wondering what's going on, you quickly get to grips with it and learn to go with the flow.
Similarly, the Hawkes clan are the definition of kooky, not in an 'all families are a bit strange' way, but in a 'these guys are really off the wall' one, and yet it works. With every secret that is uncovered, you learn so much more about the children and their parents, and while this doesn't dilute the kookiness, it does bring you closer to understanding it all. Finally, the repetition - at one point I thought if I read the line He says yes to everything one more time my head would explode but by the end I could see it coming and, more importantly, understand why it was there. That one simple line tells the reader so much about what Grace and her family are going through, with no other words needed.
The book is a myriad of contradictions: it takes place mainly in a hospital and yet is not medical, it focuses on a family but not in the usual way and I was surprised by how much I liked it. It has a far from usual plot, and some equally uncommon characters, but these somehow combine with the quirky writing style to give a very real story that you can immerse yourself in easily.
Published a couple of years ago, this is on Amazon for a penny plus postage, or in charity shops or libraries. It's good but I wouldn't want to keep re-reading it, so would suggest paying full whack for it is a little unnecessary - it's a nice book to have if you see it cheap, but otherwise don't worry.
This review first appeared on www.TheBookbag.co.uk