Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Book Review: "The A to Z of You and Me" by James Hannah

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to NetGalley and SOURCEBOOK Landmark for making it available.

Ivo, a man in his 40s, is nearing the end of his life at a hospice facility. He's alone—no friends, no family come to visit him—and it's clear he's very, very sad. The only people he talks to are the hospice nurses, and one in particular realizes the emotional pain he's in. To keep his mind sharp, she encourages Ivo to play the "A to Z" game—think of a body part that begins with each letter of the alphabet, and a memory that goes with it.

As Ivo reluctantly begins the game, you quickly see that there are so many causes for his sadness and his loneliness. You realize that he is a man whose situation—physical and otherwise—is both of his own making and caused by others. With each memory, you see a childhood marked by the death of his father and the strong friendships he built. You see how, like most teenage boys, he more than dabbles in alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs, even as he starts to understand the toll it's taking on his body.

You also see that at one point Ivo was truly lucky in love, finding his soulmate, yet his passivity and his disregard for himself damaged that relationship. As he moves through the alphabet the memories unfold, and you see where things could have been different if he had acted instead of being simply a participant in his own life. And although he fights the memories at first, and reels from the pain they cause, as his condition worsens he welcomes them, and wonders if it is too late to set the record straight with those still in his life.

Given its concept, The A to Z of You and Me is a sad book, although it's not maudlin. Ivo isn't merely a victim—his flashbacks clearly reveal how he treated those closest to him, how he was led astray, and how he wound up dying in his 40s, alone. But this is also a book about the way connections with others can change us, the beauty of reveling in simple joys, and how friendship can save us, in a way, if we're willing to let it.

I thought this was a well-written and compelling book, full of heart, although at times I wearied a bit of the A to Z concept. James Hannah scatters a few twists through the book although, for the most part, you know where it is going to go, and that doesn't really matter. This is definitely a book that encourages you to reach out, to say the things you should to those who matter, because you never know when you won't get another chance.

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