Alice Peterson has let us wait two years for her new book but guys, the waiting was so worth it! She’s back with another cracker, heart – wrenching but also uplifting story that I loved from the beginning to the end. Thank you so much Alice for having me on the blog tour, it’s always such an honour! Today, next to my (a bit gushing, even if I say so myself) review, I also have an extract from the book – enjoy!
If You Were Here by Alice Peterson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publishing Date: 22nd August 2019
Source: Received from the publisher, thank you!
Number of pages: 464
Genre: General Fiction (Adult)
‘I can toast to my future, but the thundercloud over my head, the threat of a storm, will follow me like a shadow wherever I go. The truth is, I have a potential bomb in my bag, and who knows when or where it will go off’
When her daughter Beth dies suddenly, Peggy Andrews is left to pick up the pieces and take care of her granddaughter Flo. But sorting through Beth’s things reveals a secret never told: Beth was sick, with the same genetic condition that claimed her father’s life, and now Peggy must decide whether to keep the secret or risk destroying her granddaughter’s world.
Five years later, Flo is engaged and ready to pack up her life and move to New York with her high-flying fiancé. Peggy never told Flo what she discovered, but with Flo looking towards her future, Peggy realises it’s time to come clean and reveal that her granddaughter’s life might also be at risk.
As Flo struggles to decide her own path, she is faced with the same life-altering questions her mother asked herself years before: If a test could decide your future, would you take it?
An emotional, inspiring and uplifting novel about living life to the fullest, IF YOU WERE HERE will break your heart and put it back together. The brand new novel from the acclaimed author of A Song for Tomorrow, perfect for fans of Hannah Beckerman, Dani Atkins and Jill Mansell
“If You Were Here”, another life – affirming story by Alice Peterson, introduces us to three generations of women. Peggy lost her husband to Huntington’s Disease, after years of caring for him and watching him deteriorate, both mentally and physically. Her daughter Beth, who we hear from through her diary entries after learning that she’s dead, following a road accident 5 years ago, was aware that her chances of inheriting the disease was fifty – fifty and who has done the test but kept it in secret, and who has been left in turmoil, not being able to decide if/when to tell about it her own daughter. And Flo, twenty seven years old, loving her life, setting to move to America following her new fiancé there. However, her life is shattered after discovering that her granddad and mother had Huntington’s Disease, and what consequences could this information have for her: she could also be a carrier and must decide whether to take the test telling her her fate. Flo is about to learn, not only about her family, but who her real friends are and, most importantly, about herself and her limits.
Let me tell you right at the beginning – it was a beautiful, realistic story that had me hooked from the first page – I couldn’t put it down, to be honest, and was cursing life getting in the way, as I didn’t want to leave the characters’ world for a single second, and you’ll also not want to put the book away.
The story is told from three perspectives, from Flo, her grandmother Peggy and through Beth’s diary entries, and I loved each of the voices, so strong and so distinctive. Alice Peterson’s heroines are always inspiring, and Flo is not an exception. It was heart – breaking to see the battle the two women, Peggy and Beth, had to endure, wanting to protect their beloved Flo, never finding the right time to tell her the truth, filled with mixed feelings and emotions. They were all so brave and strong, had their ups and downs, made wrong decisions and they simply felt so down to earth realistic, as well as the background characters. Each of them experiences the disease in another way but all of them are affected, and the author gives us a wide and deep glimpse into it. The feelings and emotions jump out of the pages, you laugh with the characters and you cry with them, I’ve kept everything crossed for them all and simply lived their lives together with them. Great part of this book focuses on heartbreak and guilt of not telling the truth, but you never judge the characters for it, you simply start to understand them and their choices, as the author gives them their own point of view. I loved how much the characters in this book supported each other – boy, you need such a group of friends and family in your life even when life doesn’t challenge you!
It was again a book that made me think, and there were many moments when I found myself wondering, but especially one scene made me so pensive, when the first research study led to the possibility of real HD treatments in December 2017. Flo and Beth, sobbing on the phone with joy, their friends sharing the news – it actually gave me goose bumps. For me it was such a normal day, I’ve probably haven’t even apprehended the news, and for people like our characters, and for real people all over the world, it is life changing information, giving hope. Here I am, sitting and enjoying my good health with exception of few bumps perhaps, not appreciating it enough, and here they are, crying from joy. I’ve been constantly asking myself what would I do if I were in the characters’ shoes, what decisions would I made, and I still am not sure. I was always thinking that I would like to know what future is going to bring me but now, after reading the book, I am really not certain. Actually, I am torn. Would I change the way I am if I knew I have some genetic disorder? Or would it make me back away from life? It really isn’t an easy decision to make!
I totally loved the way the author has chosen to tell about all the pros and cons of being tested to find out if you have Huntington’s. She isn’t judging but she allows us a deep glance into all the possibilities, describing how many feelings and emotions are involved in it, how, in fact, hard and difficult decision it is. It so much depends on the person itself, while many live their lives without the need to know, there are others who simply must find out what fate has in store for them. Also, how much this decisions affects family and friends – written with so much understanding, gentleness and heart.
The writing is, as always, beautiful but not too sentimental, and I loved it. It is also full of humour and the way the author balances it with the more poignant moments is absolutely perfect. It’s written with compassion and sensitivity, right from the heart and the amount of research that went into this book is clear, and I love the fact that Alice Peterson has again found a case to raise awareness of. She writes with such warmth and love, care and empathy and the novel, even though touching about serious issues, feels chatty and uplifting, even when she tells things how they really are, not sparing us any details about the facts and reality of HD.
“If You Were Here” was full of hope. It’s this kind of novel that make you look at the world differently again, start to appreciate all the little things again. The telling is so rich and vivid, oozing in feelings and emotions of courage, faith and strength, also showing the great importance of having the right network of people around you to help you get through the most difficult times. I loved every single moment of it and will be highly recommending right and left!
I clutch the letter, my hand shaking.
Deep down I always knew. I was just waiting for Beth to tell me, gearing myself up to be strong for us both all over again.
There were times when I sensed she was distant and anxious. Often I wondered why my daughter hadn’t married since any man would have been lucky to have her by his side. Yet I allowed myself to believe her excuse that she simply hadn’t met the right person, that she wanted to focus on her art, her teaching career and being a mother to Flo.
I have skated around the subject for years, too much of a coward to ask the question I dreaded the answer to. I locked my fears in a box and threw away the key, instead forcing myself to believe she’d escape the odds.
Looking back over the pas few years, I was beginning to notice signs, small things, like Beth forgetting our regular weekly call. Once, she locked herself out of the house and had to drive over to get my spare set of keys. I was determined to put it down to her being scatterbrained. Yet there was this persistent voice inside my head.
She could have it.
A voice I chose to ignore.
I look down at the letter once more.
It would kill me.
I wish now with all my heart that I could take back those selfish words. All I wanted was to protect Beth – and myself – from further pain.
I wipe the tears from my eyes.
Right now, I’d give anything to be able to hold my daughter one last time and tell her how sorry I am for letting her down. And what I wouldn’t give to be able to ask her the questions I need answering now like never before.
Did she ever intend for her daughter Flo to see this letter? Maybe, in the end, Beth agreed that none of us should know our future, that we’re better off letting fate take its course.
I can’t tell my granddaughter.
She is far too fragile, not only to discover that this has been kept a secret from her, but to understand the impact it could have on her own life. She is grieving for her mother and it’s taking every ounce of her strength just to get through each day. Showing her this letter would only rake up the past and make Flo fear her future. Yet the decision to keep on hiding the truth doesn’t rest easy either.
I tear a small corner of the letter, tempted to rip it into shreds and pretend I’d never seen it.
I wish in so many ways I hadn’t.
If I show Flo the letter it could break her heart. But if I don’t . . .
What a fool I have been to think that the past never catches up with you.
Five years later
As I walk down Fifth Avenue, to the mystery place where I’m meeting Theo tonight, I think back on the past week, wishing Ididn’t have to pack my bags and return to London tomorrow, back to my job and familiar oldroutine.
My boyfriend Theo has been based in New York for sixmonths.
‘Long distance relationships can work, Flo, if we see it as an opportunity,’ he’d said, when he broke the news that he was needed over here for a year, possibly more.
And he was right. There is something magnetic about this city. It buzzes with energy, like a party that never stops.The first time I flew over to see Theo, we visited all the major sights and did all the things you’re supposed to, like taking a trip to the top of the empire State Building and hopping on a ferry over to Staten Island. Now I’m happy to do my own thing, whiling away the hours with my sketch- pad in Central Park, or finding hidden gems off the beaten track, like the original piece of the Berlin Wall I discovered in a small plaza at MadisonAvenue.
Each time I visit – mainly for long weekends – Theo takes me to a new exhibition or restaurant that has justopened.
Nothing stays the same here. Nothing stands still.
And everything is so tall. Theo works in just one of the thousand dazzling skyscrapers that grace the Manhattan skyline.
I dodge out of the way of a group of tourists taking pic- tures of the empire State Building. Another thing I love about this place is it keeps me fit. There’s no point hailing a cab and spending a fortune sitting in traffic. Everyone here walks for miles.
As I continue down one of the most famous and elegant streets in the world, I think of Granny, hoping she’s all right. It’s the anniversary of Mum’s death today and it’s the first time we’ve spent it apart. When I called her earlier this evening, she told me she was fine and that she’d laid some flowers on Mum and Granddad’s gravestone and would later light a candle.
I promised to light one too.
In many ways Mum’s death feels a lifetime ago, but in others as if it were only yesterday. What tormented me most is the fact I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. My last conversation with her was over the phone, while I was at the airport in Venice about to board a plane. I was blissfully happy in a steady relationship and I’d just been offered a job designing sets for a small theatre company in Copenhagen. The only problem was my scatty old mum.
‘What now?’ I’d snapped, annoyed at having to repeat the conversation we’d literally just had about what time my plane landed and whether I’d be home in time for supper.
I never saw her again.
I didn’t even tell her I loved her.
That’s what I miss most: picking up the phone to talk to her; hearing her voice.
Her death had seemed so avoidable.One moment she was alive, but the next . ..
‘It was an accident,’ Granny had stressed. ‘A tragic accident that makes no sense.’
Losing Mum will be the hardest thing I’ll ever go through. At one point I didn’t even want to live, oblivion seemed preferable. Idon’t know what I’d have done without Granny picking me up and piecing me back together again, especially when her grief must have been just asraw.
I can’t tell you when I began to feel less broken. I don’t recall a turning point. All I know is that food began to taste of something again. Slowly I noticed the sunlight streaming through my bedroom window. I heard the birds sing. My steps began to feel lighter.
And then along came Theo.
We met eighteen months ago in the business lounge at Gatwick airport, when I was heading out on a work trip to southern Spain. I was busy stocking up on all the food and glossy magazines the business lounge had to offer, when I sensed someone watching me. Discreetly, I turned to see an older, fair-haired man drinking a cup of coffee, a flicker of amusement in his eyes. Everything about him spelt success, from his designer suit to his leather briefcase and expensive watch. I returned to my seat, thinking he must have been looking at someone else, or recalling a funny joke he’d just been told.
But then he approached my table.
‘Theodore Holmes,’ he said, sitting down opposite me,as if it were the most natural thing in the world to introduce oneself to a stranger. Before I could say a word, he continued, ‘I don’t know your name yet, but what I do know is I’m going to spend the rest of my life withyou.’
It’s not often I’m lost for words. I felt out of my depth, and as if he could read my mind he leaned closer towards me and said quietly ,‘Listen,I’m sorry to come on so strong. You don’t have to agree to spend the rest of your life with me just yet, but how aboutdinner?’
He handed me his business card. We parted with a hand- shake, almost as if we were in a boardroom.
‘Deal,’ I was tempted to say.
For the next few days, I imagined our perfect first date with flowers and champagne, the conversation flowing freely, the evening ending with a romantic goodnight kiss. When I returned home, however, I began to lose my nerve, that little voice of doubt creeping in.
After Mum died, I broke up with my long-term boyfriend and I hadn’t been in a serious relationship since. Ifelt out of practice.
As if he’s really going to be interested in you, Flo. It meant nothing. He probably says the same thing t oevery woman he meets and he won’t even remember you.
But despite that voice in my head, I couldn’t throw away his business card.
James – my flat-mate and best friend’s brother – looked him up online with me one evening afterwork.
‘Good-looking,’ he said when we saw a picture of Theo smiling broadly into the camera, ‘but knows it. Mind you, I’d be smiling like that too if I had his teeth and his bankaccount.’
James is a vet, which, according to him is ‘not a job you do for the money’.
He urged me to give Theo a call. ‘What’s the worst that can happen? It’s one night, and if he’s a knob, move on.’
I smiled. James always had a way with words. Anyway, I took his advice and called.
Theo picked up instantly, and when I said my name, asking nervously if it was a good time for him to talk, he replied, ‘I’ve been waiting for days. ever since I first set eyes on you.’
I was still hesitant to go on a date. I wasn’t sure I trusted his smooth talk, but I listened to James again, who told meI hadnothing to lose except one evening of takeaway, Netflix, and James’s charming company.
On our first date, Theo booked a table at a restaurant on the 32nd floor of the Shard, and over dinner I discovered he left school without any qualifications, but through hard work and self-belief he was now CeO of a company called ASPIre, one of the biggest global marketing agencies in the world.I tried to ignore that little voice again that wondered why he’d want to go out with someone like me, a mere travel agent, when surely he could have the pick of anyone in thisrestaurant.
When Theo asked me for a second and a third date, that voice stillwouldn’t go away. I kept expecting something to go wrong; I was waiting for the fall. Yet my fear has been pointless, and after eighteen months together that little voice has almost disappeared.
I rummage in my handbag to retrieve the note Theo left on my pillow this morning, with the exact address of where I’m supposed to meet him.
‘It’sasurprise,’he’dinsisted.He’sawareit’sMum’sanniversary today and wanted to do something to honour it, so I suggested we do something fun: drink cocktails, go to a nightclub and dance until the early hours of themorning.
‘Mum loved dancing,’ I said. ‘She used to dance in the kitchen and sing in the shower.’
I told him I wanted to remember all the happy times we’d shared and celebrate her life tonight, because for the first time in five years I haven’t only been thinking about Mum today. This morning, when I woke up in Theo’s apartment and read his note, I realized that time does slowly heal, and that right now, despite everything, I am truly happy.
As I arrive I see no sign of a restaurant or bar. I glance at my watch. It’s past seven o’clock.
Theo’s late. He’s never late.
For a split second I feel uneasy. I wish I knew why he was being so secretive. He knows how much I hate surprises. But my worries vanish the moment I see him across the street, and soon I’m in his arms, welcoming his kiss.
‘Are you ready?’ he asks.
‘Ready for what? Where are we —’
‘Trust me,’ he says, a smile spreading across his face as he holds his hand out towards mine. I know more than most how happiness can be taken away from us as quickly as it was found. But I know,too,that it’s time for me to let go of my past and trust in my future once and for all. It’s what Mum would have wanted.
I take his hand.
Maybe I’m allowed to be this happy without a catch afterall.
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