Book Review: The A-Z of You and Me by James Hannah
Disclaimer: I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review. No other compensation was requested or received. As an ARC, there may be changes between the review copy and the final product. (In specific, the “book club questions” section at the back was not finalized.)
Ivo is in a hospice with kidney failure. While he is definitely dying, it may take weeks or even months. To help Ivo keep his sanity, night shift nurse Sheila suggests a game. Naming a body part for each letter of the alphabet, and telling a story about it. Ivo starts with “Adam’s Apple” for “A”, remembering how he learned the story of that name, and continuing on to…that would be telling.
Most of the stories pertain to Ivo’s ex-girlfriend Mia (the “you” of the title) and their small group of acquaintances: Ivo’s sister Laura, her sexy friend Becca, Ivo’s best friend Mal and his other mate Kelvin. Slowly we learn pieces of their past together and why Ivo and Mia split up.
This is a first novel from British author James Hannah, and has apparently been successful enough in his native land to warrant an American release. There are some Briticisms in the language used that might require readers unfamiliar with British culture to check the internet. Interesting, then, that the title actually works better in American English.
The structure of the novel means that we get dribs and drabs of information as the time frame of Ivo’s memories and his present day experiences in the hospice skip about. In some cases, we see the consequences of actions well before we learn what the actions were. Readers who prefer a straightforward plotline might feel frustrated.
Ivo’s made some rather poor life choices; among other things, he’s abused drugs, made doubly unsafe by his being a diabetic. It’s also clear that his friendship with Mal had become toxic well before Ivo figured this out. Mal is laddish in the negative sense: rowdy, immature, rather sexist and casually insensitive to his and Ivo’s girlfriends. He also enables Ivo’s drug abuse because he can’t quite understand the seriousness of possible consequences.
Mia is a little harder to get a handle on, as we see her through Ivo’s rose-colored memories. She’s a swell lady, apparently, though perhaps her decisions were also not the wisest.
As a result of previous events, Ivo has been pushing people away–we learn that he’s worked at a garden center for a couple of decades, but never directly see or hear from one of his fellow employees. Now, at the end, with his world shrunk to the hospice, he has to learn to reconnect. Even with people he never wanted to see again.
The writing is competent, but I think the story would better suit people who like the slow reveal/not much actually happens sort of contemporary literature.
Content: In addition to drug abuse, there’s rather a lot of rude language, particularly in flashbacks to Ivo’s teen years. If you’re new to British slang, you might even pick up some new naughty words. This is very much a novel about adult concerns, so I would not recommend it below college age.
Overall, this is a decent first novel, which I would recommend to folks who enjoy the idea of telling a story through an alphabet game.