The good: The last quarter of the book is really powerful.
The not-so-good: The start dragged a bit, as Abi is lonely in Sydney with a baby.
Why I chose it: Thank you to Harper Collins for the copy.
Publisher: Harper Collins
Setting: London and Sydney
Rating: 8 out of 10
A friend at work started reading You Be Mother by Meg Mason and couldn’t wait to tell me how good it was. So I decided I would dedicate my long weekend to reading this book – but it didn’t take even that long. I devoured over half this book on a rainy Sunday. Sure I had things to do, but I couldn’t tear myself away from this story. It really grows on you the more you read it. Initially, I thought it would be a romantic comedy (dare I say chick lit?) but it deals with more serious issues in addition. If I had to categorise it, I’d put You Be Mother in the general fiction category, with some literary fiction traits as well as comedy. (See, I’m no good at this – just read the book!)
The story has its origins in the cold bleakness of Croydon in London. Abi is half-heartedly completing a social work degree, when she meets Australian exchange student Stu in her job at Student Services. She welcomes him pretty thoroughly and they begin a relationship, which sort of/kind of ends when Stu goes back home. One problem: Abi is pregnant. After letting Stu know by Instant Messenger, they decide on a plan: Abi comes to Australia and they live in a flat provided by his parents. After a long flight complicated by a declined card in Singapore (where a stranger pays for nappies and snacks – this is important), Abi arrives in Australia. Her own family has been in tatters for some time, and she is willing to start afresh with her new family. But Stu’s mum Elaine is suspicious and cold and Stu is overwhelmed, retreating into the excuse of study. Abi is alone with baby Jude nearly all the time. On a walk, she meets neighbour Phil and they strike up a friendship. Phil has lost her husband and her children are scattered across the globe. Plus, she’s a sucker for strays. Together, they help each other to grow – but at what cost? Phil’s own children are suspicious of the newcomer and their problems are Way More Important. Abi’s growth may just separate her from her new family completely…
Initially, I thought Abi was a bit of a sad sack, relying on others to help her out. She didn’t really seem to want to do anything to lift her out of her misery or work to get the family she wanted. Under Phil’s guidance, she becomes a bit stronger, but it’s not until the latter part of the book where she shows real guts. This made the first part of the book feel a little repetitive to me, as it’s mainly about Abi and Jude meeting with Phil. In the end though, I really admired Abi for what she had gone through and her ability to try to correct her mistakes.
Phil was a pretty cool character to read about. She’s the auntie/godmother you wish you had, free with the cash and really helpful. Sometimes she overstepped the mark with Abi though and in not knowing how to correct it, became a bit cold and standoffish. So neither of our main characters are perfect. Phil’s children are even less so. I loved to read about Brigitta and her continual calamities, only made worse by the reliance on her mother’s black Amex and bossy older sister Polly. Having her as the foil to Abi was a nice contrast I felt. Her other children are minor characters, but play their roles nicely as the bossy one and the naughty one. Polly was instrumental in overreacting (or possibly not) about Abi’s presence in Phil’s life and Freddie was essential in mucking things up for Abi again. In the end, this became a complicated family story, which made it all the more interesting. Stu and his family were a bit of a letdown, being gutless (hello Stu) or nasty (hi Elaine). Only father Roger was a meek relief to Abi.
The story is told primarily in short, sharp chapters with names! (I love chapters that have names – these are titled from a quote from a character each time and can be quite funny). It’s definitely worth persevering through the early stages as the second half is wonderfully complex and dramatic with a pinch of fun.