How to Belong is a fantastic story, a touching exploration of what it means to belong.

Jo is a barrister who left behind her small town childhood in the Forest of Dean to go to London to study and work. Disillusioned with the legal world, she returns to the Forest to take over the family butcher’s shop. She’s full of hope, looking forward to being reunited with her friends, particularly her best friend, Liam. But being back isn’t quite what she expected.

She takes a room in a cottage in the heart of the Forest owned by Tessa. Tessa is a much more complicated character than Jo, a closed book to her and everyone else, a shadowy person who seems to have no family or friends. She works as a farrier which I found really interesting to read about. She’s also dealing with medical issues that threaten to completely derail her life.

Jo and Tessa are completely different people but they have something in common: they’re outsiders in their own surroundings and both of them have to learn to adjust. I’m not sure why but I found Jo’s sections much easier to read. Maybe I identified more with her problem-solving ways than with Tessa’s burying her head in the sand ways. I very much enjoyed the book as a whole though and I thought the author weaved the two women’s stories together expertly and effortlessly.

What really stuck me with How to Belong is the sense of place. Every setting in the book from the cottage where Jo and Tessa live, and the Forest itself, to the butcher’s shop and even Tessa’s old home in Bristol, jumped off the page. I felt as if I could see and smell the trees and leaves, smell the meat in the shop, feel the heat of Tessa’s forge. It’s an incredibly evocative read and beautifully written, the kind of book which makes me marvel at the depth of feeling and understanding that come through in the author’s words. I really loved it.

Review by Nicola Smith, Short Books and Scribes

Publisher : Zaffre (12 Nov. 2020)
ISBN-13 : 978-1785764868