When Rosie’s mum Trudie dies of Huntington’s Disease, Rosie has to make the decision whether or not to find out if she too carries the gene. But then her mum’s friend Sarah makes a shocking confession – Rosie was swapped at birth. Trudie wasn’t her biological mum. Rosie is free, but at the same time completely lost. She goes travelling with her ex-boyfriend and sets out to find out where she came from in a journey that will change a whole family’s lives forever.
I recently heard Michelle Paver say that characters are the ‘beating heart’ of the story, and that is certainly true of this book. I completely believed in the characters – they are flawed, funny and familiar, and as they go through what is at times a very painful journey, you really care about them.
Someone Else’s Life is a gripping, emotional human drama (perhaps to be read at home to avoid public weeping). You immediately sympathise with Rosie as a narrator, and are drawn into her everyday life. Her description of her relationship with her boyfriend Andy, before her mum’s illness caused her to hide away from him, seems as real as though they were people I went to school with. Similarly the American characters’ lives are familiar (Rosie and Andy travel to the US as Katie thinks she’ll find her biological mum in LA) but a bit distant – a bit like when you watched American high school dramas their lives are concerned with the same things as yours was at school, but the details are different. I really liked how Katie Dale used subtle changes in the language to convey the English and American settings, and also so that you could immediately hear the characters’ accents in your head.
I think because the world created is so familiar and believable, you are really drawn in to the story. The raw emotion is built up gradually and feels real – and so the book is upsetting at times. This is compounded by the exploration of Huntington’s Disease and what it does do people’s lives, which is shown in unflinching detail. But there is also hope running throughout – the characters can make mistakes and still be okay, and the things they go through will change their lives, but won’t define who they are.
Looking at the reviews on Goodreads, lots of readers are saying that before reading this book they didn’t have much of an idea about what Huntington’s is, or the impact it has on people’s families. So as well as being a beautifully written story, the book is doing something immensely important in drawing people’s attention to a disease that affects more than 6,700 families in the UK. The book describes the genetic counselling, where people decide whether to take the test and find out whether or not they will develop the disease in later life. It makes you really think about what you would do.
So overall, Someone Else’s Life makes you think, makes you sad and makes you feel uplifted – so that’s some very powerful writing. And also - the plot twists are fantastic. I thought I knew what was going to happen, and was feeling all smug and clever, and I was completely wrong! Many thumbs up.