The Way Back to Us by Kay Langdale

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The Way Back to Us by Kay Langdale

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The stresses on a family when a child has a life-limiting illness are unbelievable. Kay Langdale captures how it is perfectly in this brilliant book. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288/10h0m Date: August 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1473618367

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A household revolves around its weakest member and because it's revolving there's always a danger that some people - such as a spouse - will be spun to the outside, whilst other children, loosely attached to the main carer will be at a distance, never completely close, but never escaping either. In the centre are the carer and the person who needs that care, bonded together in such a way that it's actually difficult to offer help or even friendship. So it is with Anna and Teddy, who suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or SMA as it's generally known. He's five now, confined to a wheelchair or his Whizzybug and not putting on much weight as chewing and swallowing are difficult.

Anna deals with a total of 47 professionals with regard to Teddy's welfare. They have a white board in the kitchen showing who's coming today. The kitchen's beyond spotless: it's clinically clean in the hope that this might reduce the chances of Teddy picking up an infection. His lungs are not well developed and a chest infection can mean that he has to spend time in hospital. It's a big burden which Anna carries. She's fortunate that her older son is a little star: Isaac's ten but with the sort of maturity you hope to find in people in their twenties, but quite often don't. He's thoughtful, supportive, obviously devoted to Teddy and probably Anna's main support.

The man who should be Anna's main support is her husband Tom, but he's out being the breadwinner. He's being tempted too, by Eliza, who's charming, beautiful and interested in Tom - everything that his wife isn't right now. He hasn't done anything about it - he's a strong and decent man, but he wouldn't deny that the thought has passed through his mind. Is there any way back to how the family used to be, should still be?

There's an old proverb that says that when you live next to the cemetery you can't cry for every funeral: so it is with the professionals who meet Anna. They're used to sick children and frequently they're insensitive (callous is such a hard word...), concerned only with doing what they believe is right for Teddy, dismissive of Anna's thoughts and aims and they have her down as 'difficult'. Anna's had enough and she's built a wall around her and Teddy and everyone is pushed outside it. Is there a way through the wall?

We're only just past the middle of 2017 and we've had two tragic and well-publicised cases of a young child and a baby who have lost their lives to serious illnesses. In the case of Charlie Gard there was a similar situation to the fictional case of Anna and Tom and baby Teddy. Both parents were - unknowingly - carriers but not sufferers. There was a one-in-four chance that the child would be neither a carrier nor a sufferer and the same chance that he or she would be a carrier and a sufferer. Isaac was in the clear and Teddy was in the wheelchair. That's always going to be a burden for Isaac to carry: he'll have survivor's guilt. Tom doesn't seem to feel it, but Anna certainly feels guilty that between them she and Tom have created this situation, that somehow, they're to blame.

I read the book in one sitting, completely invested in all the characters and hoping for the best for all of them. It was difficult not to cry for Teddy: SMA is life limiting, but he had the heart of a warrior and wouldn't have thanked you for pity. The story's told from the four viewpoints of the family and I devoured it as quickly as I could. This could well be my book of 2017: so much of the moment, but completely timeless. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For another story which might leave you crying, we can recommend Together by Julie Cohen.

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