Monday, July 11, 2016

Now and Then Friends, by Kate Hewitt

Berkley Publishing Group, ISBN 9780451475596, July 2016

In the little Cumbrian town of Hartley-by-the-Sea, Claire West and Rachel Campbell were best friends as children, at least from Year Two through Year Five. But they came from very different backgrounds, and in Year Six things changed. Rachel's mother, the reliable working income in their household, fell and broke her back. Rachel became responsible for the care of her younger sisters. Meanwhile, Claire's wealthy family enrolled her in a tonier school than the village school they'd both attended till then.

Claire was too shy to walk out of the circle of rich girls who were suddenly her "friends," while Rachel was too proud to fight this apparent dropping of their friendship.

Fifteen years later, Rachel is still in Hartley-by-the-Sea, having given up her cherished opportunity to attend Durham University to support her family when their father leaves them, without explanation and apparently without a backward glance.

Her mother, Janice Campbell, is still trapped in her bed by her broken back. Middle sister Meghan has a three-year-old son and works a few nights a week at the local bar. Youngest sister Lily is finishing secondary school and has a conditional acceptance from Durham University, pending the results of her exams.

Rachel loves her family, but she's given up all her own dreams to take care of them, and is tired, prickly, and feeling unappreciated.

Claire West has just arrived back in Hartley-by-the-Sea, just released from a month in rehab after her fiance told her parents she had a drinking problem. She's spent the intervening years being coddled, protected, and managed by her family, especially her mother, and is determined to stop going along with this. She wants to choose her own path in life.

She just has no idea how to do that.

Both women face surprises, frustrations, and discoveries over the next few months. They both miss their old friendship, but can they forgive each other? Claire's family has already tried to make her come back to London, and she;s evaded that once, but has no idea how she can manage outright defiance.  Rachel is making her cleaning business work and support the family, but everything's tight, especially with her mother's expensive medications. Meghan is increasingly unreachable, and Lily--Lily says she doesn't want to go to Durham University. And she wants to study art and design, not biology. How can she pass on the wonderful opportunity that Rachel herself had to give up?

We get each woman's viewpoint in alternating chapters, as they struggle with their difficulties, get challenged in their views of the lives, and make unexpected new friends. Including, in a slow and painful process, each other.

This was much more absorbing than I expected it to be, with both Claire and Rachel more engaging and compelling than my initial impressions of them. A great beach read.

Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.