Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: "Seven Days of Us" by Francesca Hornak

At one point in Seven Days of Us, Andrew, the somewhat snarky and elitist patriarch of the Birch family, equates all of the drama affecting his family with a popular British soap opera. But then he realizes it's even crazier than all that.

"Never mind EastEnders—this was pure telenovela."

He's not quite wrong. In her debut novel, Francesca Hornak throws more issues and crises at the Birch family, more secrets thought buried, than you can even imagine. It's like multiple Jodi Picoult novels meshed together without the ethical issues her characters have to consider. And yet despite all of it, you can't help but feel sympathy for some of the characters, anger for others—you want to shake some of them just to get them to say what they need to—but you find yourself moved by what is happening to them.

It's been a long while since the Birches eldest daughter Olivia has come home for Christmas. She always has obligations which keep her away—or are they excuses? But this year, after a stint treating a major disease in Liberia, she must be quarantined for seven days, so she and her family are going to spend it together, cozy as anything, at the family's seen-better-days country estate. They're not allowed to go anywhere or see anyone, and to top it off, wi-fi and cell coverage is spotty at best.

Andrew, a haughty former war correspondent-turned-restaurant critic, would rather be anywhere but stuck with his family for seven days, especially once he receives an email he has subconsciously been expecting for a while now. His wife, Emma, who once shelved dreams of her own career in order to raise their children, can't wait to spend the week nurturing both of her children, especially since it will keep her mind off a secret of her own.

Younger daughter Phoebe can't concentrate on much more than the excitement of her recent engagement. She wants the perfect wedding, the perfect life, and she's not happy that her older sister can't focus on anything but the disease in Africa. It's not all that's important, after all! Olivia lives in constant trepidation that she might test positive for the disease and put her family in danger, and she can't seem to focus on her family's first world problems. But all the while she is haunted by a decision she made in Liberia, and wonders how it will affect her future.

As the family unearths old arguments and wounds, and inflicts new ones on each other, the arrival of two unexpected guests throw everyone and everything completely off-kilter. It seems like the perfect recipe for a dysfunctional holiday—but the stakes could be higher than nearly anyone realizes.

"This was why she despised secrets. When they emerged, as they always did, they opened up a whole labyrinth of other unknowns."

About halfway through Seven Days of Us, I wasn't sure if I was enjoying it, even though I was hooked on the story. The characters really weren't likable, and I just didn't understand why no one would talk to each other and say what they're feeling. I get the whole British stoic stiff-upper-lip thing, but come on. But the more I read, the more I found myself immersed in all of the drama, and even if some of the problems the characters faced were all too familiar, it didn't matter.

That's mainly because Hornak made her characters very real, despite all the drama swirling around them. You've seen these people in real life—heck, some of them may even be your own family members, with or without the British accents. The book is sappy and a little silly but it's ultimately warm and sweet. While there's no way I could spend seven days quarantined with my family, after reading this book I just had to call everyone, just to make sure everyone was okay.

If you like a healthy helping of melodrama along with your family dysfunction, definitely pick up Seven Days of Us. See if you agree that it's a little like a telenovela.

NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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