Since their youngest son, Teddy, was diagnosed with a life-defining illness, Anna has been fighting: against the friends who don’t know how to help; against the team assigned to Teddy’s care who constantly watch over Anna’s parenting; and against the impulse to put Teddy above all else – including his older brother, the watchful, sensitive Isaac.
And now Anna can’t seem to stop fighting against her husband, the one person who should be able to understand, but who somehow manages to carry on when Anna feels like she is suffocating under the weight of all the things that Teddy will never be able to do.
As Anna helplessly pushes Tom away, he can’t help but feel the absence of the simple familiarity that should come so easily, and must face the question: is it worse to stay in an unhappy marriage, or leave?
Published August 10th by Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
It’s taken me forever to start this review. I had no idea where or how to begin. The Way Back To Us is such a touching book, written with aching honesty and raw emotion, it feels as if nothing I can say can go anywhere near conveying how good it is.
I do not have a disabled child, and can not come close to knowing how it feels. I do work with families of severely disabled young adults though and what I can say is that I saw them in Anna. The weariness of the daily struggle and fight against the system, the intrusiveness of strangers flitting in and out of your life and making decisions, the loss of identity and becoming a ‘case’, the constant need to defend and justify oneself and the brutally honest fact of the unfairness of it all. I’ve seen it on the faces of others and I think that in this book, Kay Langdale gets it absolutely perfectly right.
The Way Back To Us tells the story of a family under incredible strain, and I found I had intense admiration for both Anna and Tom, parents of Teddy who lives with a life limiting and progressive illness. However, this is an incredibly frank account of the reality of life with a disabled child, Anna and Tom are both flawed and while it’s easy to say “I wouldn’t be like that”, Kay Langdale manages to paint their faults in a way that the reader can understand and empathise with. I felt Anna’s frustration and anger at everyone, and felt Tom’s yearning to feel at ease. These character’s actions and feelings are not always pretty, but they are real and true.
The true star of this book though for me was Issac, Anna and Tom’s older child. The book includes chapters written from his perspective, and I found his voice utterly heart breaking. He takes on the responsibility of everyone’s happiness, silently watching out for his mother, always thinking of ways to include his brother, never asking for anything for himself. When the focus is on one child, out of necessity as it is in this story, it’s easy to forget the role that siblings play. I won’t lie, Issac made me cry, the quiet linchpin and peacemaker of the family with more wisdom than his years should allow.
The Way Back To Us is a beautifully told story of a fragile family searching to bring themselves back together as one. I took a lot from this book – Anna’s bristling at certain terms will definitely stick in my mind. I think the thing I take most of all though is a reminder that we can never know what other people are going through, defensiveness is a survival mechanism and the real barriers come from misunderstanding and miscommunication.