The A-to-Z of You and Me -- James Hannah
Grabbing debut novels generally fall into two categories for me. Either they are really good right out of the gate, or they disappoint with untapped potential. The A-to-Z of You and Me falls into the first category. Here is a book that is intriguing, original, and well written. The premise of this story strikes a chord immediately with our humanity and the emotions that defines it.
Ivo is a forty-something man living out his last days in hospice. It is stated near the beginning of the book that he has basically ignored his diabetes diagnosis from childhood, but there is an underlying theme of far more dangerous games played with his life throughout his adulthood. Those decisions have led him to his bed at hospice.
Ivo is alone, setting himself away from his sister and his friends. To help offset this loneliness, his nurse suggests that he play the “A to Z” game, where he named a body part and thought about a particular memory associated with that body part. As he goes through the letters, we get snippets of his life before hospice, from pranks in school, to falling in love, and beyond. Each of the chapters is a letter and the associated body part.
On the surface, this book is about a man looking back over his life with all the decisions he’s made, both good and bad. As you delve deeper into the narrative, it becomes obvious that this is a love story. Of all the regrets he has, they all lead back to the relationship with his girlfriend, Mia. Even the relationships between his other friends are defined by the one he has with Mia.
The relationships that Ivo has cycle through their ups and downs and time apart. His sister and his best friend are estranged, and his nurse Sheila is the only constant he has in his life as the days wind down. Each day that he thinks of each successive body part is another day closer to his death. As we near the end of the alphabet, the memories are more intimate, more painful, and harder for Ivo to remember. It’s as if he knows that “Z” means more than the end of the alphabet.
This book was an intriguing story. The narrative twists and turns through the memories of Ivo as he nears death. Each piece of his life, as it was uncovered, raised just as many questions for the reader as they answered. You know right from the beginning how this story was going to end, but the travels taken to get there weave throughout Ivo’s life.
As I’ve said before, I love novels that are about the characters. Good character development helps me to relate to the story I’m reading. The better the author, the better the character becomes. Sometimes, the best characters are the ones who you can relate to and make you feel sorry or happy for them while reading. James Hannah writes his characters exactly this way. There are points you feel sorry for Ivo, while by the next page, you’re frustrated with his actions.
The A-to-Z of You and Me is James Hannah’s debut novel. He has set a solid foundation upon which to build his readership. If he continues to hone his craft, the only direction for him to go is up This was a riveting novel. I cannot recommend this book enough. I’m sure for some people who have had family members or friends go through similar situations that this book could be bittersweet, or downright tear-jerking. It is still worth every page.
Craig Bacon tried to play the “A-to-Z Game,” but kept getting stuck at “Q.” Some people he knows would say that could be “quiet.”