When We Were Strangers – Alex Richards – Bloomsbury YA – Published 27 July 2021
Seventeen-year-old Evie Parker is devastated in the wake of her father’s sudden death. But she knows something her mother doesn’t: the day of his heart attack, her dad was planning to move out. After finding his packed bags, an impulsive Evie puts everything away, desperate to spare her mom more heartache.
To make matters worse, Evie soon learns the reason her father was going to leave: he had been dating his twenty-two-year-old receptionist, Bree, who is now six months pregnant. Desperate to distract herself, Evie signs up for a summer photography class where she meets a motley crew of students, including quirky and adorable Declan. Still, Evie can’t stop thinking about her father’s mistress. Armed with a telephoto lens, she caves to her curiosity, and what starts as a little bit of spying on Bree quickly becomes full-blown stalking. And when an emergency forces Evie to help Bree, she learns there’s more to the story than she ever knew…
I am a massive fan of Accidental, so I was eager to pick up the author’s latest novel, When We Are Strangers. Again, Alex Richards delivers a novel that is full of emotional tension.
Evie Parker is distraught to learn of her father’s death. But when she finds his bags packed, ready to leave her and her mum for his pregnant mistress, Evie decides to unpack them and hide the truth from her mother. As she carries the weight of both the secret and her grief, Evie finds herself turned towards photography and entered into a photography course by her uncle. The course and her eclectic classmates give Evie the outlet she needs, but when she happens upon her father’s mistress and begins to capture images of her, Evie learns there is so much she didn’t know and so much she has still to learn.
When We Were Strangers is both gut-wrenching but also uplifting. For all the grief and emotional baggage Evie is carrying, there are moments of light, humour and human connection. I very much enjoyed Evie’s voice. She narrates the story and her teenage-ness just shines through so authentically and uniquely. She is sad, lonely and grieving and that comes through in her words and thoughts. At times she seems whiney or sulky, but that is so perfectly real. She has the right to be snarky and she uses that to the best effect.
The photography course provides the perfect backdrop to this story and introduces some fantastic characters. It also provides our romantic interest.
Evie is pushed to the very edge to challenge what she believes in and what she knows to be truly important. She doesn’t get everything right, in fact she makes a lots of judgements and mistakes, but she learns and grows so much as a character.
When We Were Strangers is a book about grief, family secrets and healing and has so much heart.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Category: Young adult fiction
Themes: Family, secrets, death, grief, photography, mother-daughter relationships, romance.
Reading age guide: Ages 14 and up.
Advisory: Sexual references, references to sexual relationships, adultery. Description of birth. Women shaming. Frequent strong coarse language, f*** (70), sh** (71), sl** (10), bit** (14), pi** (6), ass**** (4), di** (10).
Published: 27 July 2021 by Bloomsbury YA
Format: Hardcover, ebook. 304 pages.
Thanks for another great review Madison. I am especially grateful for the advisory comments which are so helpful in decision making whether to include a book in our school’s library.
Thanks, Alexandra. I find it helpful as a resource I can look back on and check the advisory comments if I have a parent or student ask about the content in books and I’m so glad it is helpful to others as well.