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400 Reads: Starting a new chapter
Becky Cahill
Becky Cahill is a career educator and an avid reader. She reads extensively in her free time and tracks her favorites (and those that aren’t even close) on her blog at Becky is the host of ‘Read It or Leave It!’ a weekly reading podcast available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

See the full issue of the July 400 Life magazine here.

As the summer of 2020 begins our county, state, and country are preparing to open services and places of business following months of limited interactions. The last four months have been challenging for people around the world, but we now have the opportunity to start a new chapter.  With that thought in mind, I have selected a fictional novel that addresses new beginnings. The protagonist is dealing with serious life issues, but the book is infused with heart and humor as well. 

Eleanor Oliphant
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was Gail Honeyman’s debut novel and it was published in 2017. In the years since its publication, the book has been included on several “must read” lists and was a Reese Witherspoon Book of the Month selection. 

Upon reading the book jacket and promotional blurbs, you might assume this book is about a quirky woman who makes her own path in the world. However, that is only part of the story. Eleanor Oliphant is a quirky woman, but she is dealing with memories from abhorrent childhood events, isolation as an adult, and the resulting mental illnesses of both. This description makes this book sound depressing, but the opposite is true. 

The book is a study in resilience and survival, with a lot of humor thrown in. There were so many elements at play, it is hard to describe, but the results are an amazing novel. I was pulling for Eleanor from the start!

Eleanor Oliphant is a Scottish woman entering her 30s, she works in an office where she feels isolated, but that is nothing new for Eleanor. She has been on her own since leaving foster care and takes pride in her self-reliance. 

She has a sharp eye and her observations about the world around her are true and humorous, but also demonstrate about her lack of understanding in interactions with others. 

Eleanor doesn’t understand the expectations of communication and believes the way others are acting is not appropriate. 

This all changes when she falls in love at first sight with a musician.  Eleanor realizes she will have to make changes to herself and her lifestyle in order to meet and marry this man.  

Her ensuing actions are misguided, but inadvertently lead her to finding real connections in the world. 

The most notable is her friendship with Raymond, an IT technician from work. Their friendship opens doors for Eleanor and puts changes in motion that she would never have made on her own. 

Britt-Marie was here
The most important changes end up being the ones that Eleanor makes on the inside, dealing with horrific childhood events that she has kept buried up to this point. This book does not make light of trauma, but rather uncovers the steps that allow people to deal with their trauma and find their own way in the world. 

This is a powerful book with messages about family, friendships, and survival. The combination of emotions feels realistic, because life is rarely straight forward.  

On a side note, I am a big fan of audio books to help pass the time on my drive to and from work. 

Although I have a physical copy of this book, I also have the audio version. I cannot recommend it enough in this medium, the narrator, Cathleen McCarron, is outstanding and hearing the Scottish accents adds to the story. 

If you enjoy Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, you should also check out two books with similar elements of life issues paired with humorous interjections. Britt-Marie was Here by Fredrik Backman was published in 2014 and follows the new beginning of the aforementioned Britt-Marie as she is left by her husband and must make new connections with the people and the community around her. 

Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce was published in 2012 and allows us to tag along with Harold Fry as he walks the length of England to visit an old friend.  Along the way he notices what he has been missing by isolating himself from the world around him. 

Becky Cahill is a career educator and an avid reader. She reads extensively in her free time and you can follow along on Instagram at beckycahill25.