Fiction Ed’s Book Review: When You Read This

Book cover: When You Read This by Mary Adkins

My current book is When You Read This by Mary Adkins. Why did I pick it up?

I love the delicate arty cover, but more, I love the poignant wording:

“Here’s the thing I need to figure out. This whole time I thought my real life hadn’t started yet. Turns out that was my life. I have six months or so to make that okay, somehow.”

That’s what hooked me.

The book tells the story of Iris, who has died of cancer at just 33, and those left behind. They are, principally, her sister Jade and her employer Smith.

It sounds a bit bleak, doesn’t it?

But here’s where Mary Adkins proves herself a clever and sensitive writer.

The story is told entirely through the blog Iris was writing and emails between the various characters. And their voices sing off the page through these missives.

Smith’s in PR, and quickly confounds our first impression of the slick PR man. He’s struggling — emotionally, personally and in his business. He’s a fascinating character with his own shockingly bleak family history.

Jade is a spiky star chef, opinionated, used to being the bossy older sister. But now Iris is beyond her influence.

Smith’s ambitious intern Carl is really a bit-part actor in this drama, but he provides the comic relief, and is the catalyst for successive events. He’s a hoot.

In the background are Iris’s boyfriend, her mother, Iris’s ex-fiance, Jade’s ex-husband . . .

Centre Stage

But centre stage goes to Iris herself.

And when Iris speaks through her blog, it’s heart-breaking. It’s the only place she can be completely honest about what she’s going through without causing her loved ones even more pain.

And through Iris’s words, Smith and Jade each confront their own demons.

I worry that I’ve made all this sound a bit miserable, and it’s really not.

Books are often described as life-affirming, but this one truly is. It’s funny, absorbing, compelling. And every so often Iris says something that makes you stop and think, life is short, life is precious, don’t waste it.

When You Read This by Mary Adkins — her debut novel; remarkable — is out now in Hodder & Stoughton hardback, paperback due July 25.

Read more from Shirley here.

Shirley Blair

Fiction Ed Shirley’s been with the “Friend” since 2007 and calls it her dream job because she gets to read fiction all day every day. Hobbies? Well, that would be reading! She also enjoys writing fiction when she has time, long walks, travel, and watching Scandi thrillers on TV.