This is a novel centered around a hospice home in London. Stella is a night shift nurse who works at the hospice in order to escape her unhappy life at home. Vincent, her big, gorgeous husband, had returned from fighting overseas with one leg missing and an overwhelming feeling of guilt for not saving his buddy. What was once an incredibly happy marriage has ground to a halt, and Stella doesn't know how to fix it.
The hospice Stella works at is full of people, young and old, who are dying. All except for Hope. She's got cystic fibrosis; and yes, she will die sooner rather than later. But for now, she's 21, has survived a near fatal bacterial infection, and is staying at the hospice to regain her strength before going home. Her best friend Ben has stood by her through thick and thin since they became fast friends in childhood, and he stays with her now. Ben pushes Hope to keep living when all she can see is that someday her time will run out.
Stella has an important, private job at hospice. Stella writes letters for patients who wish to get one more thing off their conscience before they die. Stella is under orders to only send the letters after death has occurred. Each chapter starts with a letter from a patient at hospice, and they are by far the best thing about this novel. The letters are each so very different; some are funny, some are apologetic, some are so full of love and regret they break your heart. You as the reader never know the authors of these letters; they have already passed on. Rowan Coleman does such a fantastic job crafting these little snippets of personality that each stands out from the other. I couldn't wait to reach the next chapter so I could read another letter. The story of Hugh starts out a bit mysteriously, but his story is tied to the hospice and a letter that changes his whole life. Both his story and Stella's story provide a continuous thread through the novel and help to keep the plot moving towards a satisfactory ending.
There's much more to this novel, but I don't want to give it all away. It makes you think about how we live our lives; that sometimes we aren't aware of the wonderful everyday moments that make it all worthwhile. Sometimes we get caught up in so much junk that we forget to stop, breathe, and enjoy what we have and who we have to love.
That having someone there at the very last to hold your hand is sometimes all that matters in the end.
I was painfully reminded of my mom's recent passing. She went peacefully and very suddenly one morning shortly after Christmas. She simply took a deep breath and left. By the time I got to her apartment, she had been gone for a few hours, but the hospice nurse waited until myself and my siblings were there to spend some time with Mom. I remember looking at her, and thinking how quiet it was in the apartment, and how small she looked. The air felt very thick and solid. I held her hand and marveled at how the woman who had made parts of my life so very difficult was now so silent and still. I thought of all the things we never got to say to each other and now never would. It truly was a moment that remains crystal clear in my memory. Rowan Coleman brought all that back to me with her writing, and I'm glad she did because those moments are worth looking at and remembering.
I've read reviews of this book, and people compare it with JoJo Moyes, who I have read and loved. Yes, I can see the similarities, but I believe Rowan Coleman brings something extra to this novel that makes it stand on its own. I think it would make a good book club selection. There are plenty of subplots and impactful characters to discuss. Veteran care, alcohol abuse, childhood cancer, and how we treat those who die with compassion and dignity are all themes to explore.
Thank you to Ballantine Books for a review copy of this novel. I cried my way through it, but it was worth every tear!
Rating: 8/10 for characters who grab your heart and don't let go; beautifully written letters that will send some extra zingers right through you, and a beautiful ending that brings it all together.
Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio book.