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'Instructions for Bringing up Scarlett' is the latest book from Annie Sanders, who is in fact two people - Annie Ashworth and Meg Sanders - who write together very successfully. In this book, a young girl is tragically orphaned when her parents are killed in a car accident and it is left to her mum's best friend, Alice Mclean to bring her up as she is now the legal guardian. With a successful career, an enjoyable single life and no real experience of children, this is a daunting task for Alice. Somehow though, she and Scarlett need to find a way to muddle through and carve out a life together. 'Instructions for Bringing up Scarlett' tells the wonderful story of how this happens, and is at times painful but rewarding for both of them.
The storyline is in many ways similar to Dorothy Koomson's 'My Best Friend's Girl' and Rowan Coleman's 'The Accidental Mother' but in other ways it is also very different so don't think that it is more of the same. It is just as emotional and moving but there are also a couple of unexpected twists that make for quite intriguing reading.
'Instructions for Bringing up Scarlett' moves seamlessly between the past and present. Half of the chapters tell of what happens after Scarlett's parents, Virginia and Piers, die and how the eleven year old girl comes to terms with what has happens. It also tells of Alice's efforts to help and support Scarlett and also of quite a few run-ins with Judy, Scarlett's grandmother and Piers' mother, who has very strong ideas about how her granddaughter should be brought up. These chapters are all very emotional and definitely found me shedding a few tears as I was reading, but also very enjoyable and uplifting.
The alternating chapters go back in time and show Virginia and Piers through their marriage and their desperation to have a baby that almost put an end to their relationship - that was until Scarlett came along and they both became doting parents. These are happier chapters on the whole although there are still stressful times especially when their beloved daughter becomes seriously ill. The reader also gets to know Virginia very well through these chapters as she shares her inner-most thoughts by writing a diary to Scarlett. As I was reading, I really enjoyed the way that the story switched its focus between the past, the diary and the present and it really helped to slowly piece together all that had happened.
'Instructions for Bringing up Charlotte' was the sort of book that had me hooked from the very page. The storyline is absorbing, the characters seem real and also mainly likeable, and I just wanted to keep reading on to find out how it would all turn out. By the time that I reached the 342nd and final page, which did not take me long, I was well satisfied but also left wanting a bit more. I shall definitely be seeking out more Annie Sanders books in the future.
Instructions for Bringing up Scarlett is currently available on Amazon for £7.79 (August 2011) which is for a large paperback version.
This review has previously appeared under my name at www.curiousbooksand.co.uk
and I would like to thank the publishers for sending me a copy.
Alice McLean is pretty happy with her life. She's got a great job as a travel writer, has a fantastic best frend in Virginia and is godmother to Virginia's beautiful daughter Scarlett too, leaving her free to live her life as she wants. However, when tragedy strikes and both Virginia and her husband are killed, Alice finds herself being in charge of a very lost and confused young Scarlett. Alice not only has to deal with the loss of her best friends in the world, but learn how to be a mother to a nearly teenage girl who is shutting herself from the world more and more every day. Will Alice be able to coax Scarlett out of her shell, and cope with life as a single parent? Maybe a huge reality check is what Alice needed to finally make her life feel totally complete...
Writing duo Annie Ashworth and Meg Sanders who collectively make up Annie Sanders have been very successful so far, they've written a massive 10 non-fiction titles and 8 fiction titles, most of which I've really enjoyed. When I first saw the cover of their new book, and the break away from their old style cartoon covers, I was a bit surprised. It did make this book look a bit more generic and like a lot of other books out there, but when it was suggested to me that it could be due to the more serious subject matter, I wondered if that could be the case and decided to read the book and see for myself. I did like the cover, but I do find it a tad misleading as I feel the girl in the book is a lot older than the picture on the front would have you believe, at least in the main story, but that's a small thing in the scheme of things really!
Firstly I have to say this book very much reminded me of Dorothy Koomson's brilliant novel My Best Friend's Girl. That too was about a woman who is suddenly left to look after her friends daughter and the struggle with a single woman suddenly becoming a mother to a fully grown child and the effect that had on her life. However, while the storyline idea was the same, it felt very different reading it, and they certainly didn't seem copies of each other to me. The book takes an important look at not just motherhood, but the fact that it doesn't necessarily matter what your biological link to a child is, its how you love, care and respect them that counts in the long run, and I love how the relationship between Alice and Scarlett is ever changing in the book, and consequently felt very realistic as I read along, hoping it'd all turn out for the best for everyone involved.
I really enjoyed the way Sanders chose to narrate the novel. We have 2 stories running simultaneously - the present day story of Alice finding out about the death of her beloved friend, introducing Scarlett into her life and the consequent actions that happen because of that, and in between this was the story of Virginia and her husband's romance, their struggle for a baby and their life with Scarlett up until the day of their death. It was an easy book to follow, and because you get to know Virginia and her struggle to conceive as the book progresses, Scarlett becomes an even more important character and it is touching to read snippets of Virginia's life with her, it's very emotional to read in parts. Alice is written truthfully - a woman struggling to know what to do with an almost teenager thrust into her life and I felt sorry for her, she seemed to be in a no-win situation and did the best she could with Scarlett at all times.
The ending of the book brings with it a huge surprise that I never saw coming in a million years, and I love it when an author can pull that out of the bag after the reader having read several hundred pages already without a hint of what is to come! It certainly spun the book on its head for me, gave it a whole new perspective and I love that Sanders kept this reveal until the end, it was fantastic. The book was really well written as a whole, and I found the narrative so easy to read, getting through chapters at a time as I just didn't want to put it down whenever I was reading it. As a parent reading this, I found it a very emotional book, wondering how I would feel if the worst happened to me and what would become of my son, and I am sure it'll strike a chord with every parent out there, and leaving some sort of contingency in place were the worst to happen to them too.
It's a tricky subject matter but one Annie Sanders has handled perfectly, and woven a superb around too. With a set of extremely likeable characters, from the straight-laced Virginia, dedicated best friend Alice to the gay best friend Vince and very confused teen-to-be Alice, there is something there for everyone to love and the touching emotional story at the heart of it will surely pull on the heart strings of every reader. I also love the irony of the title - of course parenthood always comes without a manual and this book shows that, but shows how special and precious children can be even through the hardest and darkest times. It was an absolute joy to read, and I whole-heartedly recommend it to everyone. Brilliant.
ISBN: 978-1409112792. Published by Orion on 9th June 2011. Pages: 356. RRP: £12.99
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitreviews.com
Thank you for reading.