Published by Headline Review
Publication date – 5 April 2016
Source – review copy
“A one-in-a-million story for anyone who loves to laugh, cry, and think about how extraordinary ordinary life can be. Not to be missed by readers who loved THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, ELIZABETH IS MISSING or THE SHOCK OF THE FALL.
Miss Ona Vitkus has – aside from three months in the summer of 1914 – lived unobtrusively, her secrets fiercely protected.
The boy, with his passion for world records, changes all that. He is eleven. She is one hundred and four years, one hundred and thirty three days old (they are counting). And he makes her feel like she might be really special after all. Better late than never…
Only it’s been two weeks now since he last visited, and she’s starting to think he’s not so different from all the rest.
Then the boy’s father comes, for some reason determined to finish his son’s good deed. And Ona must show this new stranger that not only are there odd jobs to be done, but a life’s ambition to complete . . .”
I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my opinion of the book.
Ona Viktus is 104 and is getting along perfectly well on her own, thank you very much. But when a boy scout arrives at her house to do his duty and help with chores Ona soon finds herself making a new friend, just when she thought such days were behind her. But then the boy stops coming and his father turns up in his place, to fulfil the boy’s commitment. But the boy has renewed Ona’s desire to live. Can the boy’s father help, and is it really Ona who will help him?
This is a lovely, warm-hearted story of grief in its many varied forms, that grief can be overcome, how friends can be made at any age and that there are many things that can bridge the age gap.
It has sadness running through it but it is not oppressively sad. It is real life sadness, grief in its many and varied forms. For Ona there is sadness at the passage of time, the downfalls of living a long life meaning you see loved ones leave and that which is no longer part of your life is held up in relief. Ona has suffered grief in her life. She knows how to survive it, but understands that some losses never really fade.
For Quinn his grief is two-fold he is troubled by the fact that he struggled to love his unique, kind child not just because he was unready to be a father but also because his son as was not as he expected him to be. He is also grieving the passing of his ambition, his believe that his musical career was the correct one and that his chances of making it big are vanishing. It is only after the boy has died that he comes to realise that he did truly love him, and that he was loved in his own way in return. Meeting Ona takes him on a journey that helps him discover this, and which makes him realise that his dreams are ones which should be let go, and that new realities should take their place.
Belle, the boy’s mother, shows another, more raw form of grief, that which you may expect to see from one who has lost her child. How the three of them help each other with their loss is the crux of the story and it is lovely to read the progression of their relationships.
There are also spots of humour and light relief. The relationship between Ona and the boy is a joy to read. The novel is interspersed with world record facts, a form of comfort and a pet interest of the boy, one which Ona finds infectious.
Another additional layer of sadness comes from the fact that the boy never finds out what joy he brings to the people in his life, or indeed eventually finds out if Ona meets the criteria for being a world record holder. The fact that he is never named is also sad. Its as if he is even more removed from the lives of his family, that perhaps to name him would open the floodgates to even greater melancholy.
Though this book is sad it is not morose or maudlin. The sadness is natural, in a form that everyone can recognise, and reconcile themselves to. Which perhaps makes it even more touching. The characters all have traits that can be identified with. Dreams, ambitions and the desire to live, and be happy. They aren’t perfect and don’t profess to be, which makes them all the more interesting to read.
A beautifully told story, that will pull at the heart and confirm that it is never too late to meet your ambitions, or indeed to change them and yourself.