Kate Clayborn did it once again. Absolutely wonderful from start to finish. She is such a remarkable writer and there was so much intention and care with how she built this story. Nora and Will started off on the wrong foot when he wants to rent out the apartment he inherited in her building. This after a promising exchange from her balcony to his. I couldn’t help but root for them to figure things out. This was such a cozy and comforting book, from the emphasis on home to the older apartment denizens who have formed a found family to the way Will becomes friends with his boss at work. There’s even a poetry night! All these unique details coming together to breathe life into who Nora and Will are and who they want to be.
And who they are is wonderful! I adored them both. I want to wax poetic about Will and his leaning and Nora and her sauce and then the sickbed scene and the towel rack. But I also want you to experience the magic for yourself so I’ll leave it at that.
Kate did remarkable things around grief and memory and generational wounds. Will’s uncle died but he only ever met him once and it’s a painful memory. He wants nothing to do with this apartment. Nora had more of a connection to his uncle than he did. And she’s dealing with her own loss. Nonna died a year ago but she has a palpable presence in the book. I had such a sense of who she was and what she meant to Nora just through the objects in her apartment (that Nora can’t bring herself to get rid of) and the way Nora so often referenced her or what she would have thought of something. It really made me miss my grandma who died in 2007. This story gave me all the feels throughout but the grandma content made me ugly cry. When I worked in hospice, we’d refer to this reaction as a griefburst. When we lose someone we love, we figure out a way to go on but life isn’t the same and no matter how much you integrate the loss, grief still bubbles over every once in a while. Reading about Nonna and Nora was sad but ultimately cathartic, especially as Nora figures out what changes she needs to make.
This story felt like a warm hug. It was just what I needed. Highly recommended.
Note: this is set in Chicago and so I want to briefly address its diversity or lack thereof. Race is not identified for anyone in the book. Nora’s best friend Deepa, who lives in California, might be South Asian based on her name but that’s not really enough to go on. We aren’t told about the race/ethnicity of the other apartment dwellers or Will’s coworkers so the default tends to become white. Maybe Nora lives in a predominantly white neighborhood but there’s no way to know for sure. Did the publisher object to characters being identified that way? (I have heard this happens, although not specific to this publisher.) Clayborn’s books usually feature casual diversity so I’m not sure why that didn’t happen as clearly here. There is an FF couple in the apartment building, which was great to see. However, I wish we could have seen great representation across the board.
Character notes: Will is a white 31 year old emergency doctor who wears glasses. Nora is a white 29 year old web designer. This is set in Chicago.
CW: past death of neighbor/uncle, past death of 92 year old grandmother, grief, Will’s parents died when he was 17/18 (undisclosed terminal/chronic illness for dad, mom died of aneurysm a year later), secondary character hospitalized for broken leg and hand, secondary character had mild heart attack a few years ago, secondary character with anxiety, gender essentialist language, ableist language
Disclosure: I won an advanced copy from BookishFirst. I’m friendly with the author online.