If you’re looking for a fast burn with low angst, this is not the book for you. And that’s okay but I feel a little sad for you, that you won’t get to experience the precious joy that is this book.
I have only read two of G Benson’s books before this one but they were enough for me to know that she’s one of a handful of authors I have to read when I’m in a good place. Not that her books are bleak or depressing – on the contrary, they leave me full of hope and love and all things warm – but damn, so many feelings. Angst. Emotions. And these get into me, invade my heart and my soul and I have to remember to breathe. Don’t get me wrong, I love that feeling but I also have a real life to live where I can’t stop functioning because I’m feeling too much.
Which kind of sounds like Tilly, come to think of it. When things get too much, Tilly leaves. She sets off almost without notice and comes back after periods of time of variable lengths. Evie and Sean, her best friends since uni, are resigned to the fact. When Tilly comes back, she fits right back into their life. Except this time doesn’t feel like usual. Evie and Tilly had a fight just before she left and when she returns, the whole universe is upside down: Evie, who has been Tilly’s rock for over a decade, is unexpectedly pregnant and Tilly wants to be there for her. Which implies earning Evie’s trust back, convincing her Tilly won’t skedaddle again, unveiling secrets and being one hundred per cent truthful – including about the fact that they’ve both been in love with the other forever.
I don’t often quote from books because I’m not a fan of taking sentences out of context but I’ll make an exception here for two reasons. First, this description of who Evie and Tilly are and how different they are is just perfect. And second, I found myself reading these two sentences over and over because they’re gorgeous, quite simply: “Evie was solid and still, the roots of a tree, embedded and deep. Tilly was all wild leaves that blew about in the wind and only sometimes found themselves whipping back to where they came from.”
While Evie and Tilly are at the heart of the story, it is told from three points of views, Sean’s a counterpoint to the other two, at once an insider and an outsider, sometimes angry but always supportive. Sean really is a wonderful character and his work shenanigans bring welcome comic relief to both the characters’ lives and the story.
I love the way Benson writes characters on the whole LGBTQIA* spectrum and it doesn’t read like a catalogue. Sean is genderqueer and aromantic in a queerplatonic relationship, Evie is pan, Tilly uses bi. And maybe some readers will at first feel like everyone is gay or something in this book but it’s only true of the main characters and it just feels real. It’s not surprising nor rare that one would tend to gravitate towards people who will understand them, with shared experiences they can relate to. At one point in my life, my whole world was queer, with the exception of my parents and siblings and a couple of old friends. Obviously, we weren’t using as many words to define identity, orientation or relationships (yes, I had to google queerplatonic), as it was a long time ago in a slow-moving country and most people were still trying those words on for size, but just because the words weren’t used yet, or not as much, doesn’t mean the people weren’t already there. It only changed when our child started school and we, now parents, became friends with other parents (an interesting number of which turned out to be queer too, which we didn’t know when we first met waiting for our kids in front of the school). What doesn’t feel forced either is that neither Evie nor Sean are white and it defines them without being a big deal. It’s important to who they are, not so much to the story.
Oh and I love love love Evie’s mother. All the secondary characters are fantastic, none is superficial, whether it be Cal (Sean’s partner), Tilly’s family, one-night-stand Luke, but my favourite is unequivocally Evie’s mother, Lin, for all the love she has for her children but also for the mischievous pleasure she finds in embarrassing them. I laughed a few times while reading and she’s the one who made me laugh most often. She’s also the one who made me cry first.
Family is the main theme of this book, what defines a family, chosen or not, what makes a parent, finding one’s place in a family, biological parents and not, and of course it speaks to me, as a non-bio parent (who is finally legally a parent to my child) in a family with more than two parents.
In my review of Who’d Have Thought, I wrote that Benson writes “with small delicate touches that never feel fragile”. It’s true in this book too. There’s a lot of vulnerability but it never crosses the line to frailty, there’s this sense of strength beneath that never entirely lets up. And even though they’re completely different characters, with a very different story, there is something in Evie and Tilly’s relationship that reminds me of Cari Hunter’s Meg and Sanne, the best meant-to-be fate-denying couple in lesfic. Or ever. It’s the vulnerability between them, when they finally allow it to show. It breaks my heart and I just absolutely love it.
The secrets, both big and small, the love too, make it all feel heavy and deep and borderline stifling at times but that’s when Benson will inject the right dose of humour, the perfect amount of banter that best friends share, the word that breaks the tension. Then, when Tilly and Evie finally let love be, it’s beautiful, a miracle, an awakening. It’s happy and giddy and so lovely. And how does Benson write kisses that are soft and gentle and fierce at the same time?