Half A World Away by Mike Gayle

Half a World Away is one of my favourite novels I have read so far this year. From its sociological observations (“little frustrates the human brain so much as an inability to immediately pigeonhole complete strangers”) to its multifaceted characters and at times heartbreaking storyline, Half a World Away will pierce its way into your heart.

The story focuses on two people: Kerry and Noah. Taken into care when they were children, they ended up separated; Kerry spent her life in a children’s home, while Noah was adopted by a middle-class family and grew up to be a barrister.

Now a single mum who is struggling to make ends meet as a cleaner, Kerry manages to track down her long-lost brother, only to realise that they are more different than she could ever have imagined. Or are they? To what extent does biology inform our personalities?

This is a classic nature/nurture story, and an interesting premise executed well. The twist, which happens about halfway through, surprised me: I didn’t see it coming at all. Sometimes that’s a good thing; in this book, it felt a little like it had been put there as a shock tactic, meant to blow up in the reader’s face. It did that, but it momentarily pulled me out of the world of the novel and back into the world of a critical reader going: “Wait a second, what just happened? I noticed no foreshadowing of this.”

Once I’d gotten over the rocky confusion in the middle, though, I swallowed the rest of the book in one go. It is a beautiful story of family and friendship and the triumph of love over all odds. The kind of heartwarming thing you want to read at a time when you’re probably not able to be in touch with your loved ones as much as you’d like.

A few days after I’d finished the book, I found myself remembering something someone had said to me and then thinking, “Who was that, though? I haven’t spoken to anyone in a while.” Then I realised it was one of the main characters’ voices still in my head. And that is one of the best recommendations a book can get: when the characters stick around to remind you how much they moved you even after you’ve closed the final page.

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