Reviews: Novels Featuring Breast Cancer

Reviews: Novels Featuring Breast Cancer

Below The Big Blue Sky by Anna McPartlin

Buy Below the Big Blue Sky on Amazon now HERE

This novel is a follow-up to The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes, and it picks up exactly where that one left off, but it can be read as a standalone. I decided to listen to Rabbit Hayes on audio before I read it, and I’m glad I did. That novel is about 40-year-old Rabbit dying of breast cancer, and Below The Big Blue Sky is about how her family cope with her death and begin to move on afterwards.

The Hayes family is headed up by potty-mouthed Molly, who’s a truly wonderful character. The cast of characters includes Rabbit’s father, her brother and sister (and her sister’s family), her best friend and her daughter, Juliet. McPartlin tells the story from all the major characters’ points of view, and their journeys through grief are moving and real.

One of the major plotlines involves Rabbit’s sister, Grace, finding out that she carries the gene mutation Rabbit carried, which puts her at high risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and deciding how to deal with that. As a carrier of the same gene mutation and a breast cancer survivor, I found it a tough read in parts, but it was also wonderful to see my experience recognised and shared in this way.

You might expect nothing but tears and sadness from a book about the aftermath of a young person’s death, but there is so much joy and laughter to be found within these pages, too. McPartlin is a great storyteller, and she brings an enormous amount of warmth to this heartbreaking subject.

Reviewed by Laura Pearson

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The Love Square by Laura Jane Williams

Buy The Love Square on Amazon now HERE

Last year, I had quite the love affair with Laura Jane Williams’ debut, Our Stop, and I was delighted to see she had another book out. I dove in without finding out much about it, so I was surprised to discover the main character, Penny, is a breast cancer survivor. While this isn’t central to the plot, it is important in terms of decisions Penny is making about her future as a mother, as the cancer treatment has put her into early menopause.

I felt like this aspect of the novel was handled really skilfully and well. There’s a tendency in novels for cancer patients to either die or be completely recovered, and I know a lot of cancer survivors will be happy to see their actual status (recovered but hugely altered and with life-changing symptoms) reflected.

At the start of the novel, Penny is happy running a café in London and has just met a man she really connects with. But family circumstances take her away to run her uncle’s gastropub in Derbyshire for a year, and she leaves her new man behind. In quick succession, Penny meets a second and a third man, and basically gets herself in a bit of a mess, love life-wise. I loved reading about how she gets entangled with these men and how she decides which one is the man for her.

This book is full of charm and humour, and its characters are really diverse, including the first gender non-binary person I’ve come across in a novel, which was great to see. It’s the kind of book where you know there will be a happy ending of sorts, but you don’t know quite what it will look like and it’s really fun to let the author lead you there.

Reviewed by Laura Pearson

For When I’m Gone by Rebecca Ley

Buy For When I’m Gone on Amazon now HERE

There’s no getting away from the fact that this is a heartbreaker. For When I’m Gone centres around a manual that Sylvia writes for her husband Paul to guide him through life without her as she dies of breast cancer. There are three strands to the book: the manual itself, the time immediately after Sylvia’s death and the time Sylvia and Paul spent together.

Ley’s writing is gorgeous, the kind that you want to savour and underline. There’s no doubt about it, this woman can write. She’s great on characterisation and relationships, too. I adored the fact that the protagonist, Sylvia, isn’t heralded as some kind of saint, which is a common problem with characters who die young and tragically. Sylvia has made her fair share of mistakes, and this is the central mystery that drives the plot – what came between Sylvia and her sister? Will Paul feel differently about his wife once he knows the worst thing she ever did? As a consequence, Sylvia felt real and relatable, more than just a description on a page.

I think the idea of what you’d want to tell your husband about the raising of your children in the event of your death is one of those that chills readers to the core. Who hasn’t considered this kind of scenario? Leaving your children behind while they’re still young is a great fear for many. Ley has taken this fear and woven a beautiful story around it; one that is heartfelt, engaging and feels essentially true.

Reviewed by Laura Pearson

Laura Pearson

Laura is a writer who lives in Leicestershire with her husband and their two children. When she’s not writing or reading, she can usually be found trying to get her son to put his shoes on, encouraging her daughter to sleep past 5am or moving small items from one room to another. You can follow her on Twitter and on her blog about getting cancer when she was pregnant.

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