Book review: The Year that Changed Everything by Cathy Kelly

Ginger Reilly is convinced she is having the worst 30th birthday ever when she overhears her supposed best friend cruelly betraying her at a wedding bash.
The Year that Changed Everything by Cathy KellyThe Year that Changed Everything by Cathy Kelly
The Year that Changed Everything by Cathy Kelly

But across the bright lights of Dublin, two other women’s milestone birthdays are not turning out as they hoped. Events are taking place that will change all their lives forever… are they ready for the challenges that lie ahead?

Popular author Cathy Kelly is best known for her warm, wise and witty Irish storytelling and this sparkling contemporary tale of family, friendship, love and loss stars three very different women, linked by an almost invisible thread, but each on a rollercoaster journey to find happiness on their own terms.

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Kelly, who is also an Ambassador for UNICEF Ireland, excels at bringing us strong female characters and here she explores the trials and tribulations of being a woman in today’s high-stakes society.

Callie Reynolds dearly wishes fifty wasn’t a birthday that people felt had to be celebrated but her handsome financier husband Jason likes to show off and has organised a lavishly expensive party at their upmarket Dublin mansion for her big day.

Everyone seems to think beautiful ex-model Callie has it all but she is not so sure. Real life is not like the ‘pretend world of Instagram’… for a start, Jason is selfish and overbearing, and 14-year-old Poppy has recently changed from their ‘Beloved Child’ into ‘Daughter-From-Hell.’

Just as the birthday party gets under way, Callie’s seemingly perfect world falls apart when the police arrive with a warrant for Jason’s arrest for fraud… only to find he has done a runner.

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That same day, Sam Kennedy awakes in another part of the city with the realisation that she is forty and about to give birth to the baby she thought she would never have. After three failed IVF cycles in her early thirties, she suddenly got pregnant at 39.

Sam has Ted, a caring, attentive husband, and should be looking forward to the birth but with her cool, distant mother Jean, a rather stern, retired headmistress, as her only role model, Sam wonders how on earth she is ever going to be warm, kind and motherly to her own child.

And for newly thirty Ginger, whose life has always been dominated by her ample figure, the day of reckoning arrives when her friend Lisa’s scathing comments about her weight make her feel ‘as if being fat was the worst crime in the world.’

Ginger has an agony-aunt column in an online teenage girl mag and has developed ‘a tough-girl persona’ in her media job but beneath that veneer she despairs that she has never had a date with ‘something other than the remote control.’

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It’s a pivotal day for each of these women and change is coming, whether they are ready or not…

Kelly brings her natural warmth and empathy to this feel-good story which delivers drama, romance, fun and friendship in equal measures as we witness three women coming to terms with the momentous changes in their life, and learning to take charge of their own destinies.

Each character – from truculent teenager Poppy right through to the wonderfully eccentric Great-Aunt Grace – is beautifully fleshed out and each generation finds solidarity and support in the sisterhood of family and true friendship.

The joy is in watching each of the principal characters grow in confidence as they discover the rewards of independent thinking, work through the fears or hang-ups that have impeded their self-development, and finally steer their lives in a new and more fulfilling direction.

Emotional, uplifting and life-affirming, The Year that Changed Everything sees Kelly at her smartest, sassiest best.

(Orion, hardback, £12.99)