Today I am sharing my thoughts on The First Day Of Spring by Nancy Tucker, an astonishing book that I think is really going to make waves this year. My thanks to publisher Cornerstone for the early copy of the book via Netgalley. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
‘So that was all it took,’ I thought. ‘That was all it took for me to feel like I had all the power in the world. One morning, one moment, one yellow-haired boy. It wasn’t so much after all.’
Chrissie knows how to steal sweets from the shop without getting caught, the best hiding place for hide-and-seek, the perfect wall for handstands.
Now she has a new secret. It gives her a fizzing, sherbet feeling in her belly. She doesn’t get to feel power like this at home, where food is scarce and attention scarcer.
Fifteen years later, Julia is trying to mother her five-year-old daughter, Molly. She is always worried – about affording food and school shoes, about what the other mothers think of her. Most of all she worries that the social services are about to take Molly away.
That’s when the phone calls begin, which Julia is too afraid to answer, because it’s clear the caller knows the truth about what happened all those years ago.
And it’s time to face the truth: is forgiveness and redemption ever possible for someone who has killed?
This book … I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started reading, but it wasn’t this. The blurb may give you an overview of what the book is about, a hint of what may be to come, but it belies the solemnity and tragedy of the story. The melancholic, powerful and almost visceral nature of parts of the narrative and the truly emotional rollercoaster of a ride that you are about to embark upon.
This is also a book that is going to be very hard to review. Partly because, for very good reason, the blurb still manages to hide the very darkest secrets that this story holds. And I don’t want to give too much away about the story itself. It is a tale that is told through a dual timeline and two perspectives – that of Chrissie, an eight year old girl who suffers the most tragic and neglectful of upbringings, and of Jayne, mother to five year old Molly who is just trying her hardest to give her daughter everything she never had. There are no surprises to be found here, the truths linking the two timelines spelt out to readers very early in the book – that is not what this book is about. We are not expected to unpick the mystery of Jayne’s past, the reason she fears losing Molly so much. Nor are we supposed to puzzle long over the dark secret that keeps Chrissie’s tummy fizzing with excitement and a sense of power. That is very much spelled out in an unassuming, almost matter of fact manner in the first few pages. It makes the impact all the more powerful, the emotions heightened.
The book involves the murder of a young child. The emotional aftermath is heart wrenching in its authenticity. Seeing young Steven’s parents, his mother especially, struggling so hard to come to terms with what has happened, the way in which his death slowly chips away at the very essence of his older sister, Susan, can be very hard to read. But those scenes are almost secondary to the story of Chrissie, the young girl who is at the heart of the story. The real reason we are all here. As tragic as Steven’s death is, and it really is, it is Chrissie who demands our attention.
I thought I would find it hard to feel any sympathy for her, given what we witness in the first few pages, but Nancy Tucker has created in Chrissie a wonderfully tragic dichotomy. A character who does something so loathsome that she should have our hatred, and whose circumstances are so utterly horrid that in truth, she only garners our sympathy. A feeling of how she has been let down by all those around her. That what comes to pass is horrific, tragic, unforgivable and yet almost inevitable. It would take a hard heart not to be moved by the neglect we witness. To not feel an almost visceral reaction to the way in which she is treated. For no matter what we know about Chrissie, she is just an eight year old child. Nancy Tucker has written her perfectly, the ferocity and bravado she shows to the world masking the scared and lost child who lives within. Her character, her life, feel uncomfortably authentic. Her troublemaking and anger are a cry for help in a world full of adults who simply fail to notice. She is as much a victim as anyone in this story.
Then there is Jayne. She is a character who it is hard not to feel sympathy for, even though we know her darkest secrets. She loves her daughter, Molly, so much that she would do anything for her. But she is clearly a broken woman, someone who is worn down by a life and a past that is slowly revealed to us as we read on. Her situation certainly made me think long and hard, about redemption and second chances. Watching her with Molly you can feel the love emanate from the page, but also the sense of her almost drowning in her fear. And as we journey with her to a place from her past, the melancholic undertones of her story grow ever stronger. The battle of her conscience, of her need to do right by Molly, was acutely observed, portrayed in such a way that you cannot help but forgive what seems to be the most reckless of decisions.
The story left me emotionally wrung out, the final chapters bringing a tear to my eye. It is a story that is set to move the hardest of hearts, a tale of murder and neglect. Of toxic families and enduring friendships. Of unforgivable actions and the need for redemption. It is a story of love and it is a story of hope beyond all the odds. It has made me think long and hard about how I have reacted to certain events from the past, made me question whether there is such a true division between the black and the white. It is a story that will stay with me for quite some time, and that comes highly recommended.
And gets one of these.
About the Author
Nancy Tucker is a trainee Clinical Psychologist. Her memoir of her childhood struggle with anorexia, The Time in Between, was published in 2015. Her follow-up, That Was When People Started to Worry, an examination of young women’s mental health, was published in 2018. The First Day of Spring is her first work of fiction.