Content warning: grief, death of parents, breast cancer, panic attacks, childhood bullying
Blurb from Goodreads
Laura has a laid back attitude to life. Her home isn’t spotless, and after a hard day she likes to take to bed with a block of cheese.
Jess, on the other hand, is your classic overachiever: The Big Sister, Chief of Chivvying, Queen of the family WhatsApp. Her life is picture-perfect.
Laura and Jess lost their dad when they were kids, and now their mum is gone too. And one of the hardest times in life is made harder by the fact they can’t agree on a single thing, from where to scatter the ashes to whether “passed away” is even an acceptable term.
But when Laura starts pushing her own boundaries and Jess agrees to let other people in to her (not so) perfect life, the two women realise they need each other more than ever. They might not be ready to admit it, but family is everything…
We Are Family follows the story of two sisters, Jess and Laura, dealing with the death of their mother Evie (breast cancer) through the viewpoint of the younger sister, Laura.
Laura struggles with issues of self-confidence and self-worth, and has felt throughout her entire life that her mother favoured her perfect sister Jess.
Jess was seen as the good girl as a child, the one who got better grades, the one who dealt better with the untimely death of their father when they were children, the one who grew into a responsible adult with the stable marriage to a loving and successful man, the one with perfect children…
As opposed to Laura who didn’t get the right grades, the one who felt lost after her father’s death, got involved with a man with little to no motivation in life, had a child who acted out, had a poorly paid job etc etc.
I really enjoyed the sense of humour in this book. There were so many darkly comic moments that made me laugh out loud and I got incredibly invested in the storyline very quickly. I was eager to see how the sisters’ relationship would play out following their mother’s death and to see if they could ever find common ground.
But I soon began to get tired of the storyline. There seemed to be endless drama after endless drama… yet none of these plot-points were ever explored to a satisfactory level. Too many plot points were hyped up and then dismissed in the blink of an eye. I get the idea that life is ‘a quick succession of busy nothings’ to quote Jane Austen, but in a novel there has to be a sense that these dramatic moments have a clear purpose rather than feel the book is overstuffed and under-edited; that the author had a myriad of ideas which they were unable to narrow down to impactful events.
Case in point elder sister Jess is an Internet influencer and had to deal with a troll leaving threatening comments. This was built up over the course of a couple of chapters only to be neatly tied up in one brief paragraph and never mentioned again. It just didn’t feel authentic.
The book has over a hundred chapters: this was most definitely too much. I would have preferred many of the minor side-plots to have been edited out and conversely more emphasis placed on rounding out the ending of the story which felt rushed. There was a sudden jump forward of approx eight months and I felt like I got reader-whiplash. Too many things were neatly tied up with a bow, and important overall plot and character development happened off-page which made me feel shortchanged. Because after committing to the book for so long I wanted to feel satisfied about where Laura and Jess would end up as characters and felt I had missed out on a massively pivotal moment in their relationship.
I did however very much enjoy Laura’s struggles with her self-doubt and how she came to understand that she had control over much of that negativity. It was also touching to see how she was actively trying to overcome her mental health issues and was placing so much emphasis on teaching her little boy to be proud of himself.
I also really liked how the book incorporated flashbacks to Laura’s childhood and younger adulthood that showed her relationship with her mum Evie. It helped to make Laura feel much more layered as a character and shed light on the reasons behind some of her present day life choices.
Overall there was a lot to admire in this novel. The main characters of Laura, Jess and their mother Evie were very engaging and interesting to read about. I liked how no one person in this novel was painted in a perfect manner. They were all deeply flawed and at times incredibly unlikeable, but at others they displayed such love and warmth… it made them feel as if they were real. Yes I would have preferred if the novel was shorter and had a more complete ending but ultimately I very much enjoyed the story and would happily read another book by this author in future.
Recommended to fans of light fiction that prefer an emphasis on character over plot.
*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
Publishing 3rd September 2020, Avon