I’m not sure where to start with this book.
Just like every other book I’ve read by Paige Toon, this gave me feelings. In fact, the book opens with a scene that I identified with so closely that as I read the book on the bus to work one morning in February, I had to hide my face as I was sobbing like a baby.
If You Could Go Anywhere is Paige Toon’s book of 2019, like many authors of so-called Chicklit (a genre I will happily admit I love), she releases just one book a year, and this was it for last year.
The book sat on my Kindle for a while before I read it, but I wanted to savour it, and that’s what I ended up doing.
The novel is all about Angie. At the age of 27, she has never left the small town of Coober Pedy where she has lived with her grandparents since her mother died. The one claim to fame her hometown has is that it was the site for some scenes in the movie Pitch Black.
Angie has always wanted to travel, but due to the loyalty she has always felt to her family and the small community she grew up in, somewhere along the way her plans were derailed. So, instead of travelling around the world and experiencing life for herself, she collects postcards sent by the people who pass through town and the first question she ever asks is “If you could go anywhere…”
After the death of her grandmother (this happens at the beginning of the book and is the scene that 100% broke me) she discovers a letter hidden behind a bottle of wine and it sends her on a literal journey of discovery to find out the truth about her mother and the father she never knew.
Her determination to find out where she came from leads her to Italy where she has a beautiful and touching meeting with the man who is her father. That she is the product of an affair he had while married is not glossed over and hidden under a carpet simply because she is the central character and this is something that I have grown to appreciate about Paige Toon’s work. She tackles the rough and the smooth and is honest about the hurt that was caused. No character is ignored because the story may be unpleasant.
Her first meeting with her father is awkward, if only because she doesn’t know how to react and neither does he. But it is helped by the fact that he is welcoming and overjoyed that they have found each other.
And then there’s Alessandro.
He’s not dark and mysterious, but he does have pain in his eyes and a history that will make even the hardest heart bleed just a little. In the beginning, it does feel as though he wants to resent Angie just a little bit…but then you see that he’s more than a little bit damaged and you really want to find out what caused the pain that turned him into the sort of man who likes to jump off mountains without any care that he might be jumping to his death!
Things are complicated further in the relationship between Alessandro and Angie when it’s revealed that he is Giulio’s (Angie’s father) step-son.
This, of course, is not the trauma which darkens Alessandro’s mood. The tragedy he is struggling to overcome is something that he has blamed himself for his entire life, the death of his baby sister.
In Rome, Angie starts to come into her own. She builds strong friendships, she builds a relationship with her father and his family and all the while, her feelings for Alessandro grow. She wants to help him as she helped all the people back home in Coober Pedy.
Alessandro is really difficult to reach, he is so consumed with guilt for what happened to his sister and he isolates himself, pushing people away when all they want to do is help him.
As the book reaches its culmination (I am not going to spoil it, I heartily recommend you read it if you like books that bring out a lot of emotions), Angie pushes herself to take even more risks and though this is the lead up to the end, it is also the beginning for Angie as she has finally moved on, something she is helping her father and Alessandro to do at the same time. They are learning together.
This novel is full of grief, it’s so real, so painful that as I read through it I could feel my throat closing up. I could remember the pain I felt when I saw my grandmother take her last breath, the sickness that gnawed at me at my dad’s funeral when I was 11.
This, this is what I love about Paige Toon’s books. She pulls you into the story, makes you feel and care for her creations.
I have loved all of the books that came before this one: Thirteen Weddings, Lucy in the Sky, Johnny Be Good, but this one, it is up there with my favourite by Jill Mansell, To the Moon and Back. Clearly, I have a big thing for books that make me cry until my eyes are sore and my throat dry.