The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

cover54969-mediumI received a copy of The A to Z of You and Me from Transworld via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Though I’m grateful for the opportunity to read this book it does not affect my review in any way.

I do feel another disclaimer is needed this time around. I’m currently undertaking two weeks of work experience at Transworld with the publicity team. I received and read a galley of this book before I’d even considered applying for the work experience, but got too distracted by life to manage to review it. After coming across a beautiful hardback copy of the book today I felt inspired to get my opinions down before I forgot them all, and thankfully I had made a few notes on WordPress already which was quite helpful.

I promise my opinion of this book has not been altered by my work experience, I’d probably just not mention it at all if I didn’t like it. Jus’ sayin’. Even if I do feel like my blog is over-heavy with four & five star reviews and needs some balancing out. Don’t worry, I’ve read a few three star books lately that will be reviewed soon. And I suppose the ones I couldn’t finish don’t merit three…

The A-Z of You and Me – James Hannah

Ivo was once a young man living a carefree life. Now he is middle-aged with a failing body and a head full of regrets, resident in St Leonard’s Hospice.

Ivo’s dedicated nurse Sheila suggests a game, the ‘A to Z’, to occupy and encourage him. Eager for distraction, Ivo begins listing his body parts alphabetically, associating a memory with each. The results are a kaleidoscopic chain of recollections, which together unravel the story of Ivo’s life; of the girl who tried to help him, and the friend who wouldn’t let her.

Ivo is in hospice, he’s only forty years old, and he’s waiting to die. He doesn’t want any visitors. Sheila, his nurse, suggests he plays a game to keep his mind occupied. Why doesn’t he go through the alphabet, picking out a body part for each letter, and then remember something about each one? This game serves as a device that lends a great structure to the novel and an easy confidence to the reader, it is not a technical challenge to finish this book, but an emotional one, and a personal one.

A is for Adam’s apple, anus, and ankle. G for gut. U for urethra uvula.

Ivo has a past chequered with addiction, with a reckless habit of not looking after his diabetic health, and choices that he regrets. He narrates this story with an unapologetic, honest voice that I can’t imagine suiting any character that isn’t facing forthcoming death. James Hannah captured this in such a way that for a while I truly wondered if he had written this on his death bad (he didn’t). Then I realised that this is fiction, that people are this talented, and James Hannah’s debut was exceptional. His characters are superbly written, each and every one of them, and my only grievance is that I don’t know what happened to everyone else after Ivo’s death.

The thing about this book is the resignation with which you begin, the knowledge of Ivo’s inevitable fate, and the strange hope that can’t help but blossom anyway. I’m not sure what that optimism I felt was for exactly, perhaps that he finds the peace he needs, perhaps that the relationship he talks about in past-tense isn’t really as doomed as it sounds. All I know is that, despite how final the ending is, I didn’t have a heavy heart when I finished The A to Z of You and Me. Knowing how the story has to end makes the journey all the more sweet.

When I reached the part where we find out what happened to the relationship, and what caused it to be past tense rather than present, I was shocked. This book with such a predictable structure and a foretold ending still has a twist. Horrifyingly, as well as heartbroken of course, I was also a little relieved. Because I’m a hopeless romantic, I suppose. I hope those who have read The A to Z of You and Me (or will be reading it soon) understand where I’m coming from and don’t think I’m a bit sick. If you do, please get in touch so I can talk about it without spoiling it for everyone!

I was amazed by how invested I became in a fictional relationship that was clearly over and un-salvageable. It reminded me that real, burning, true love does not have to last forever, it just has to be important at the time.

Due to personal circumstance and family history, I understand a bit about this kind of loss, organ failure. Though thankfully not to diabetes (sidebar: my sister’s boyfriend’s dad is really awesome and raised a bunch of money for Diabetes UK last year by cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats which is 935 miles. He lost his mum to type 2 diabetes, and his brother has had type 1 diabetes since he was 7. He’s going to be doing another bike ride for Diabetes UK later this year, after donating his kidney to his brother Tim in two weeks’ time, and you should definitely donate if you can!). My dad passed away because of liver failure when I was fourteen and though the cause was not the same as Ivo’s, this definitely felt like a bit of a kick in the teeth. A lot of books do, for some reason or another. I kept reading though, and I’m glad I did. Sometimes the things that hurt the most are the ones that are worth sticking with, and that goes for books too. If it doesn’t affect you, it’s probably not important.  

This is the kind of book that makes you kick yourself, makes you change your perspective of things, makes you wonder what you could be doing better, how you could be spending your time more productively, and with more love, and more appreciation of what you have. I both love and hate those books, don’t you? Anything that reminds me I’m being ungrateful or taking what I have for granted feels like it’s judging me (even though it’s a book and it doesn’t have conscious thought – though you could fool me with that first person narrative). At the end of the day, like with All The Bright Places, I’m better off for reading this.

The A to Z of You and Me tugged on my heart-strings consistently throughout, except for the moments I was laughing out loud (in public) and then worrying that I may have developed too dark a sense of humour. 

My personal rating: 5/5. Amazon average: 4.3/5. Goodreads average: 4.14/5.

Buy from: Amazon / Book Depository / Hive / Random House / Your Local Indie Book Store ♥

Publishers: Doubleday. @DoubledayUK @TransworldBooks

Publication Date: March 12th 2015.

Follow the author on Twitter: @JamesHannah

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