Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Book Review: "How to Walk Away" by Katherine Center

When you can accurately predict nearly the entire plot of a book, yet you still can't tear yourself away from it—that's when you know you've found a good one.

Margaret Jacobsen has always been an overachiever. She worked tirelessly to get good grades and succeed in school. She has been dating her handsome, steadfast boyfriend, Chip, for several years now, and she just landed her dream job, even though she wasn't quite qualified. Everything is leading her up to the moment she's been waiting for—she knows Chip is going to propose and they'll begin their journey to happily ever after.

Yet how often does everything turn out just as you've planned it? In a split second, perhaps the most magical moment in her life to date turns into her biggest nightmare, and she's powerless to stop it. The next thing she knows, she wakes up in the hospital, having to face obstacles like she'd never imagined.

"We were the very definition of helpless, and as I realized that, it also hit me that everything I'd been looking forward to was over before it even began. Chip and me—and the lakeside wedding we'd never have, and the rescue beagle we'd never adopt, and the valedictorian babies we'd never make. They say your life flashes before your eyes, but it wasn't my life as I'd lived it that I saw. It was the life I'd been waiting for. The one I'd never get a chance to live."

Suddenly, the woman for whom everything has worked out perfectly has her whole life turned upside down. Yet at the very moment when all she wants to do is wallow, she has to deal with those around her as well. Chip is drowning in self-pity and wants Margaret to forgive him and give him the easy way out, without an ounce of sacrifice on his part. Her mother has taken on this challenge as she's taken on every other obstacle in life—full steam ahead—and will stop at nothing to make her daughter fight to get every ounce of her life back and believe that is possible. Margaret's sister Kit returns after a three-year absence, and tries to help her with her quirky sense of humor and her unflagging sense of enthusiasm.

And then there's Ian, Margaret's physical therapist. The one the hospital staff thinks is too mean for Margaret's wounded psyche. The only PT who doesn't encourage or laugh with his patients, but instead just pushes them harder. The one who seems as if he feels nothing for anyone, except rage for his boss and the situation he's found himself in.

Margaret wants some semblance of her life back, but doesn't know what that entails, and she doesn't know how to handle those who purportedly know better than she does. How can she look forward to a life that will never be the same, never be what she had dreamed of? Will she even be able to have the things that "normal" people want—love, a family, a job, a future?

"I kept things calm, I stayed pleasant, I took my medicine—but the truth is, I had woken up in a dystopic world, one so different that even all the colors were in a minor key, more like a sour, washed-out old photograph than anything real. It looked that way, and it felt that way, too."

From the very first pages, How to Walk Away drew me in. As soon as I figured out what was happening, I knew where the plot would go, and while at first I was a little frustrated, this book won me over almost immediately. These characters seem familiar yet they are so appealing, even when they're acting selfishly, headstrong, impetuous, or insensitive. It didn't matter that I knew what would happen from start to finish—I cared about these characters and needed to be part of their story.

This is a book about finding hope and courage where you think you have none, about how you need to be the person to motivate yourself and buoy yourself through tough times—you can't depend on those around you. It's also the story of how it's always great to have family and supporters and loved ones around, but you have to learn to do things for yourself, too.

I'm being a little evasive with the plot even though many reviews explain just what happened to Margaret. I thought it was better to let the story unfold for you, even though you might very well predict it, too. This is tremendously appealing and so winning, that even when you wonder just how likely it would be that certain things would happen, you tell yourself to stop overanalyzing and keep enjoying.

A book that tugs at your heartstrings and makes you talk to yourself: how can you ask for anything more? I can see a lot of people really loving this one.

NetGalley and St. Martin's Press provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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