For my first review of the Fall for the Indie Book Challenge, I picked Mary Chris Escobar's How To Be Alive. I have read and reviewed Escobar's Neverending Beginnings in the past and enjoyed that book. So, I had a reasonable expectation that this would be a positive start to the challenge.
I was not disappointed. The book starts with Jen Emerson attempting to get back to something like a normal life after her fiance dies in a car accident. The trouble is that when Jen starts reflecting on that life, she realizes that not only isn't it the life she and her fiance planned for themselves, but that their relationship wasn't what all it was cracked up to be. She's assisted in this realization by the escalating harassment and manipulations of her fiance's high school sweetheart. She attempts to start a new life, but blunders into the path of a friend from her past with whom she has some unfinished business.
One of the things that I love about this book is that the characters are very real. They're not perfect. They make mistakes, have foibles, and sometimes even let each other down. It is easy to find yourself wanting to sit down and have a beer with them. So frequently in books like this characters can end up being trope-y. There's the gently wise best friend, and/or the saucy straight-talker and the hero who comes in a fixes it all. Those characters are here, but the wise best friend has her own thing going on. She's not there just as a foil for the main character. The saucy straight-talking pal is starting a new romance. And the hero for all that he's a good guy, doesn't swoop in an fix everything. He also has the irritating habit of mansplaining to Jen just what she should be doing.
Where the book wins is that Jen manages to figure a lot of things out for herself. She finds she can be happy for her friends and their successes. She also calls the hero on his mansplaining ways. To his credit, he can admit when he's wrong. Where so many books that begin with the death of a partner devolve into syrupy stories of loss recovery. This one manages to keep the characters grounded and not taking themselves too seriously.
There is a twist toward the end of the story that has the potential to upend all of Jen's progress. I won't spoil it, but I did see it coming. It gives Jen the perfect opportunity to test her progress in recovering from where she was at the beginning.
Which brings me to the other thing that I love about this book. Jen fixes her life herself. She doesn't rely on a new guy to fix things for her. And she doesn't just fall into a new situation. She shows a lot of independence and strength. Sure, she made some mistakes, but I think How To Be Alive leaves us hoping we would be able to recover as well as she does.
You can find out more about Mary Chris Escobar and her books on her website.