This book deals with relationships, how life paths can change dramatically (for better or worse) through failure to recognise “sliding door” moments, and making sure you make the most of the one sure life you have.
Sam Valentiner: The son, thirteen years old, who is super-smart, and a synaesthete – he can see information in a sensory way. He has never met his biological father, and lives with his mother and step-father.
Henri Skinner: Sam’s father, a former war correspondent, a man driven by fear and capable of extraordinary feats of bravery.
Edwina “Eddie” Tomlin: Henri’s former girlfriend, a successful publisher of fantasy books. She befriends Sam in the hospital.
Madelyn “Maddie”: The comatose twelve-year old orphan girl, whom Sam “befriends”.
Dr Saul aka God: The ever-present neurosurgeon, highly talented, but limited by the current state of medical knowledge.
Nurse Marion: The fifty-something nurse who puts her years of experience to good use in helping Sam, and the patients under her care.
This is a book told from three very different perspectives.
Henri is the battle-hardened absent father. We meet him as he throws himself off a bridge, to save a young girl from drowning. While he saves her, he ends up getting terribly injured, and becomes hospitalised and comatose. The ironic twist? He was on his way to see his son for the very first time, having received an invitation to an Open Day at his school.
Sam is the son, a bit of a loner, but best friends with Scott, another genius, and expert forger. He lives with his mother, who has told him nothing about his biological dad. Her partner is Steve, who mostly remains in the background.
Eddie is the ex, inexplicably dumped by Henri. Successful in her career, things were going well when she professed her undying love, whereupon Henri turned on his heel and walked.
The major incident occurs early on, resulting in Henri being admitted to hospital. Sam discovers what has happened, and through Scott’s clever forgeries of notes, is able to bunk off school and spend time with his father on the ward. Accidentally getting off on the wrong floor, he comes across Maddie and Nurse Marion, and is immediately drawn to Maddie. He decides he will continue to visit both for as long as it takes.
Eddie was nominated by Henri as his living will representative, which is how she finds out he’s in there. She meets Sam, of whom she knew nothing, but they quickly form a bond, which gets stronger as the novel progresses.
The main action takes place at the hospital, yet there are ample flashbacks from Eddie to her relationship with Henri. Sam too has a deep imagination. We see the world from inside Henri’s head, as he struggles (internally, and invisibly to those in the waking world) to make sense of where he is. He reflects on his life choices, his childhood and his father, and how Sam came to be. Maddie, through Sam’s devoted attention, comes alive as a character, as Sam tries to find out more about this tragic girl. The nurses encourage him, as she has no visitors – all her family were wiped out. Eddie tries to balance her existing relationship, but is deeply torn over the man she loved beyond all love.
This book has deep themes. The importance, power and visceral nature of love is front and centre. Love withheld – one parent forbidding the other to know their child, and the repercussions of that decision on all of them. Love lost – the open wound left behind when one person tears themselves away from the other. Love unrequited – where one never had the opportunity to express it.
There are other themes – what happens after death, the sliding door reality of our lives, meaningful connections and unfinished business, the fact we know more about outer space than the human brain.
What I Liked:
- This is an absorbing read. The world-building was excellent, and the story flowed.
- The main characters were well-developed and believable.
- The perspective technique worked well, and allowed real depth to the story.
What I Didn’t Like:
- The ending, as it were, just felt a little rushed for me.
This is a great book. There is a lot of emotion, well-drawn characters, and some philosophising on life, death, love, and the nature and needs of humanity. It reads like the author was exorcising some personal ghost, but the book is by no means self-indulgent or mawkish.
It is one that will leave you thinking, whose characters you will remember, and absolutely recommend it.
Thanks to the author and First To Read for providing me a free .mobi of the novel, in return for an honest and objective review.