About the Book
Jo grew up in the Forest of Dean, but she was always the one destined to leave for a bigger, brighter future. When her parents retire from their butcher’s shop, she returns to her beloved community to save the family legacy, hoping also to save herself. But things are more complex than the rose-tinted version of life which sustained Jo from afar.
Tessa is a farrier, shoeing horses two miles and half a generation away from Jo, further into the Forest. Tessa’s experience of the community couldn’t be more different. Now she too has returned, in flight from a life she could have led, nursing a secret and a past filled with guilt and shame.
Compelled through circumstance to live together, these two women will be forced to confront their sense of identity, and reconsider the meaning of home.
Format: Hardcover (368 pages) Publisher: Zaffre
Publication date: 12th November 2020 Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Find How to Belong on Goodreads
I was initially drawn to Sarah Franklin’s first novel, Shelter, because it was set during World War Two which is one of my favourite periods for historical fiction. I was also intrigued by the choice of location, the Forest of Dean. I loved the book and it left me keen to read whatever Sarah came up with next.
In How To Belong the location is once more the Forest of Dean but this time we’re very much in the present day. However, there is a sense of the timelessness of the Forest, even if much around it has changed and is still changing. Not only a source of recreation and employment, and a haven for wildlife, the Forest acts as a place for contemplation and reflection. As one character puts it, “The trees will restore the mess“.
The book switches between the points of view of Jo and Tessa, two women who are very different in terms of their life experience and character. Tessa is by nature an introvert whose one attempt at reaching out and expressing her true self ended in rejection, disappointment and a sense of failure, for reasons the reader will gradually discover. Jo, on the other hand, has forged a life for herself away from the Forest, a life that had been successful in many ways but which has left her unfulfilled and with a desire to return to her roots.
Jo returns with big plans for the family butcher’s shop but is disappointed to find it more difficult than she expects to be absorbed back into the community. The friends she grew up with have built their own lives – married, started families – and talk about people she doesn’t know. “The group’s shifted. She doesn’t know who she is or where she fits in. There’s nowhere left for her to go.” In particular, Jo struggles to understand the change in her relationship with her childhood friend, Liam, with whom she was once so close. “She’s homesick for happy Liam, who doesn’t exist anymore; perhaps never did outside her own naive bubble… Most of all, she’s homesick for her old self.” What Jo comes to realise is that it’s possible to be the repository of others’ hopes and dreams, not just your own.
Tessa has become used to living a life socially distant from others. From childhood, she’s instinctively felt different from her peers for reasons she couldn’t initially explain. Traumatic incidents in her past have left her with a misplaced sense of guilt as well as worries about her future.
Thrown together by chance, Jo and Tessa slowly discover they have more in common than they may have thought and that each can help the other find a way to achieve the sense of belonging they both crave. Whether that’s feeling a part of a community or a family, having a sense of security, fulfilling a dream or simply being comfortable in your own skin.
How To Belong is an engrossing human drama that shows it’s never too late to start again, if you just give yourself the chance.
I received an advance review copy courtesy of Zaffre Books, NetGalley and Readers First.
In three words: Tender, insightful, intimate
Try something similar: Birdie & Jude by Phyllis H. Moore
About the Author
Sarah Franklin grew up in rural Gloucestershire and has lived in Austria, Germany, the USA and Ireland. She lectures in publishing at Oxford Brookes University and has written for the Guardian, the Irish Times, Psychologies magazine and The Pool. (Photo credit: Twitter profile)
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