Title: The A to Z of Everything
Author: Debbie Johnson
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 417; Price: Rs 399
The one thing common to siblings all over the world — they fight. But they also love and support and cheer and defend each other. We live every day with the feelings of rivalry and friendship, loyalty and the overwhelming desire to kill them, fairly often. It’s the relatability of this bond that makes The A to Z of Everything a stirring and precious read. In this tale of two estranged sisters, Debbie Johnson explores several painful aspects of relationships — jealousy, betrayal, guilt and forgiveness- all with a deft hand.
Rose and Poppy are daughters of a single mother, Andrea, and their once-close family has suffered a silent rift for 17 years. Andrea has tried many times to mend this bridge, but failed time and again. As her body succumbs to cancer, Andrea formulates one last elaborate scheme to reunite her ‘grubby angels’ using her craft, acting, in true dramatic flair. The hardest part of her plan is that she must die without her beloved girls by her side. Lewis, her loyal friend for over 10 years, is the one with her at the end. Together they curate a scavenger hunt of sorts, a journey of discovery for the girls to reconnect and rediscover each other. An indexed list-‘The A to Z of Everything’- is a series of tasks, topics of conversations, letters, videos and more that they must address together in their childhood home.
The girls are now in their 40s, living their own lives and lost in their own ways. Rose lives in Liverpool with her 16-year-old son, Joe. She’s overweight, forever anxious, disorganized and considers herself to be a sham of mother and binge eats in shame. With forgotten dreams of curing cancer, she’s now a teaching assistant with no real joy or ambitions in life. Poppy, on the other hand, is all ambition and devoid of soul. She’s the head of marketing for pet suppliers firm with the body of a 25-year-old, a swanky London apartment, and wild nights filled with free will drinking and fun. But her life feels just as empty, without her big sister in it — who won’t forgive her one drunken indiscretion from a long, long time ago. Now, with the passing of their mother, the girls are thrown together, the realization of having no one other family daunting and terrifying. Forced to finally deal with their angst and rediscover love on the stage designed by Andrea.
Debbie tells a heartfelt tale of grief and loss through Rose and Poppy. Andrea gently guides them from beyond the grave — her quirky style and zest for life keeping spirits lifted through what is actually a touching read. With every letter of the alphabet, the walls her daughters have raised between them start coming down. The telling of their mother’s death and the heartbreaking grief they feel will choke you with tears. Debbie’s play by play of Andrea’s feelings and Rose and Poppy’s reactions leaves you with the realization of how often we take people in our lives for granted and put off fixing relationships that are broken. It reminds you how important it is to get through the sticky, mucky, hard process of letting go of anger and embracing forgiveness because life is indeed too short.
After reading this story, I’m making my own list of A to Z, for things I want to change, reminiscence, love and release in my life. At the end I know I will feel ‘zapplebums’. Ha, you’ll have to read the book to know what I mean.