This year I've read so many books that have made their way into my heart by hanging around in my head for weeks. So far all of the books bar one that we've chosen for the box have been malingerers - books I can't stop thinking about, and while only one has been a book that grabbed my heart instantly, all of our choices are now firmly embedded there.
For whatever reason I feel like independently published books often end up on my keeper shelf in this way and the minute I finished The Red Beach Hut I knew I'd be thinking about it for a while.
Full disclosure - the author, Lynn Michell, is one of my favourite people in publishing. She runs Linen Press (publisher of Sometimes a River Song, one of the best books I've read this year) a small indie publisher of books by women. This is her third novel and is published by another small indie press, Inspired Quill, and my thoughts about it are in no way influenced by the fact that I 'know' Lynn.
So now that's over, here's the blurb for The Red Beach Hut:
"Eight year old Neville is the first person to notice that the red beach hut is occupied again.
Abbott is on the run from a homophobic cyber attack. The hut is his refuge and shelter.
Inevitably man and boy collide. Their fleeting friendship is poignant, honest and healing. But Abbott's past threatens to tear him away as others watch, judge and misinterpret what they see.
An evocative portrayal of two outsiders who find companionship on a lonely beach. Lynn Michell's third novel is about the labels we give people who are different, and the harm that ensues."
For me the last sentence really sums up the book. There were so many sections where I had to stop to think about why we think about certain things the way that we do and what's just a learned response - a knee-jerk reaction if you will - rather than what we, or I, actually think about things. I love love love books that make me think. OK, sometimes it's nice and easy to read a book that doesn't require much thinking, but I personally find that the books which stay with me are the ones that challenge the way I think about things, or which really make me see how other people could act the way that they do, particularly if it's horrible.
I also love it when a book leaves me wanting to know more about the characters and follow them on their journey. The Red Beach Hut is a fairly short book and it took a little while to grab me but once it did I was well and truly hooked and by the end I wanted a follow up to find out what happened to Neville.
The novel does touch on some pretty difficult subjects - homophobia, Neville's mum's profession (no spoilers), and people's imposition of their own horrible worldviews on those around them - but despite that it is far from bleak. It's a brave and brilliant decision to have a child as one of the central protaganists. Personally I don't always like child characters but Neville is so beautifully drawn on the page - he has his own particular way of looking at the world and despite his life so far his worldview is so simple and lovely I just wanted to give him a big hug and make everything better, and in many ways that is what Abbott is doing during the course of the story.
I also found Abbott himself to be a hugely sympathetic character. I really loved that despite his circumstances he saw a child in need and helped, even against his better judgement. I was heart - invested in this book by the time I'd finished it and sat with it for a few days. It made me thoughtful and sad and so so angry with one particular character towards the end (if you don't like feeling the overwhelming urge to punch a fictional character then don't read this because there is a character you will probably very much want to hit). The thing is that this is fiction, yes, but we all know or have come across in our lives people who react to things viciously without any knowledge of the full facts of a situation and it's that in The Red Beach Hut more than anything else that makes this book resonate so much.
Please read this book, I honestly feel that it's a really important read. You can get it directly from the publisher here or buy some tickets for our raffle, as Lynn has kindly donated a copy as a raffle prize! Look out next week for my interview with her about The Red Beach Hut.