I’m lucky enough to be sent plenty of books for review, but I particularly love it when a book arrives in the post captures your interest from the moment you open the parcel, be this down to the cover and title alone, the blurb, press release or a combination of all three. Dear Thing by Julie Cohen was one of these books, despite my review copy not even having the finished cover (which would have hooked me in even more now I’ve seen it!), I was sold on the idea of the story from the very beginning, but what is it about?
Claire and Ben are the perfect couple. But behind the glossy façade, they’ve been desperately trying – and failing – to have a baby for years. Now, the stress and feelings of loss are taking their toll on their marriage. Claire’s ready to give up hope and get on with her life, but Ben is not. And then Ben’s best friend, Romily, offers to conceive via artificial insemination and carry the baby for them.
Romily acts in good faith, believing it will be easy to be a surrogate. She’s already a single mother, and has no desire for any more children. Except that being pregnant with Ben’s child stirs up all sorts of emotions in her, including one she’s kept hidden for a very long time: Ben’s the only man she’s ever loved.
Two mothers—and one baby who belongs to both of them, and which only one of them can keep. (Synopsis courtesy of Julie Cohen's website.)
I thought that I may be in for an emotional, and quite frankly heart-wrenching ride with this story and that was part of its appeal, as I love reading a good tear-jerker every now and then. I also don’t remember reading a book that covered surrogacy before, so I welcomed the idea of reading something a bit different and delving into a world I knew little about.
Overall I thought this was a great book, and once I picked it up I found I couldn’t put it down; isn’t that a huge sign of enjoyment? As readers we are presented with the perspectives of both Claire and Romily throughout the book and this was really important in terms of developing empathy with each of these characters, that empathy is formed very quickly. Julie managed to create leading characters where I felt equally for both in the situation they find themselves in; I didn’t find myself feeling that the baby should end up with one of them over the other as there was merit in every scenario. I think this helps sustain the reader’s interest, I really didn’t know what the final outcome would be, or what I wanted it to be, but I wanted to find out!
I didn’t find the book to be heart-wrenching like I thought it would be, to an extent I was disappointed with this at the time. I expected to cry, after all; one of these characters I grew to really like was going to end up without the baby they already loved. I'm approaching this as a non-parent, though I recognise people are going to have different levels of emotional attachment with the story. Saying that though with consideration, I think the way the final chapters were written fitted well with the character development throughout the book and the events that take place. I would maybe just have liked a little more insight into the feelings of both Claire and Romily after the decision is made about where the baby will live. As a reader I’m left wondering how the one without the baby is doing right now! But, saying that, I completely understand why as readers we don’t see this. Nevertheless, I’d love to see the characters pop up in Julie’s future books to get this insight.
Julie’s characters are perfect for a book covering the different emotions for different parties involved in surrogacy, the fact that Romily isn’t necessarily the kind of character I would imagine to be a typical surrogate (if such a thing exists), and perhaps appears to go into the process without fully considering how difficult it could be makes the story all the more intriguing. The letters she writes to the baby (hence ‘Dear Thing’) add depth to the novel as it helps the reader find out more about how Romily is feeling, when she writes the letters she opens herself up emotionally to the reality of the situation much more than we witness in the general narrative, these were a really nice feature of the book.
Not only were Claire and Romily great characters (and very different people) and written so well, the supporting characters really helped to make this book. Posie (Romily’s daughter) was a fantastic character and she felt so real and it took me back to being her age and the sometimes tricky relationship with parents; Ben (Claire’s husband) was also great and although we weren’t presented with his viewpoint he still came across as a fully formed character where as readers you really feel for him.
Overall I’d definitely recommend this book as a great read! I’ve seen other reviews which state this story will stay with people and I wholeheartedly agree. This is the first book I’ve read by Julie and now I look forward to reading more.
Thanks to Transworld for the book in exchange for an honest review and to St. Martin's Press for sharing the book with our readers.