Book review: What A Way to Go by Julia Forster

9 Jan

what a way to go1988. 12-year-old Harper Richardson’s parents are divorced. Her mum got custody of her, the Mini, and five hundred tins of baked beans. Her dad got a mouldering cottage in a Midlands backwater village and default membership of the Lone Rangers single parents’ club. Harper got questionable dress sense, a zest for life, two gerbils, and her Chambers dictionary, and the responsibility of fixing her parents’ broken hearts…

Set against a backdrop of high hairdos and higher interest rates, pop music and puberty, divorce and death, What a Way to Go is a warm, wise and witty tale of one girl tackling the business of growing up while those around her try not to fall apart.

What a Way to Go is a charming and nostalgic reflection on growing up in England in the 1980s that will make you smile. It is also the bittersweet story of  twelve year old Harper Richardson as she tries to get to grips with growing up and make sense of the world and the adults around her. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip down memory lane that this book provided and think Hraper is a great leading lady.

In many ways, Harper reminded me of another great 80s fictional commentator; Adrian Mole. Harper is equal parts wise beyond her years and slightly mystified child. I loved the way that she tried to look after the adults around her. By making her lead character a 12 year old, Julia Forster gives us an unique view on decidedly serious topics such as divorce, mental illness and death.

Harper’s parents are recently divorced and she spends her weekends shuttling between them and trying to make them both happy. Family dramas are played out against Harper’s desire to become a business entrepreneur, get along at school and maybe find her first boyfriend. I loved the way very normal activities like watching Blind Date on Saturday night sat alongside the serious issues and there’s a wonderful dark sense of humour to What A Way to Go that keeps the story just the right side of upbeat even in its most painful moments.

I’m revealing all about my age here but I was just a year younger than Harper in 1988 when this story is set so many of the things she talked about are also my memories. The nostalgia I felt whilst reading certainly added to my enjoyment (I loved the bit about the importance if the Top 40 especially!) and I found myself ringing my mum and saying ‘do you remember …’ I think being the same age at the same time certainly helped me relate and connect to Harper and I took her to my heart as I read.

Harper’s philosophies often made me smile as did those of the supporting characters. My particular favourites were Mrs Curtis, an old lady in the village where Harper’s Dad lives and Kit, Harper’s Mum’s husband to be for a large part of the book. As with all good family dramas there are secrets to be revealed and surprises in store. I loved that the big reveals when they came weren’t huge and life shattering for Harper though they certainly changed the perspectives on the story.

As Harper begins to learn the ups and downs that life can throw at us, I found What A Way To Go a beautiful and sensitive story of growing up and finding your place in the world. An excellent debut from Julia Forster and I look forward to reading more from her in future.

What A Way To Go is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

Find out more about Julia and her writing at:

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

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