Home by Penny Parkes: Moving and deeply compassionate story - book review -
Ten years as a professional housesitter has sent Anna Wilson to some of the world’s most exotic locations.
She readily admits that she’s 'a person constantly braced for moving on’ but all Anna has ever really wanted is a home to call her own… will she be brave enough to finally put down roots?
Penny Parkes, author of a series of warm and witty rom-coms set around a doctors’ surgery in the Cotswolds, moves up a gear with this moving and deeply compassionate story starring a young woman struggling to overcome the psychological scars of her early years in foster care.
Armed with her trademark wit, insight and wisdom, Parkes explores the insecurities and emotional legacies of a childhood severely disrupted by being placed in the care system at the age of seven, and moving from one foster home to the next.
The result is a beautiful, emotive and compelling journey alongside the heartbreakingly fragile but inspirationally courageous Anna as she slowly learns that a sense of belonging comes not necessarily from a place, but from the people you care for.
Thirty-year-old Anna is returning to Oxford – the city where she gained her degree – with her trusty ‘kit bag’ which is ‘never unpacked, just opened out for ease of access.’ She is combining her latest housesitting job at crumbling Gravesend Manor with the wedding of her best friend Kate Porter.
Her work lets her care for other people’s homes, pets and sometimes even neighbours, but it also gives her a place to call home – for a little while at least – and to ‘try on a different life for size’ with, most importantly, no attachment involved.
So Anna lives vicariously when all she has ever really wanted is a home of her own, a proper one, filled with family and love and happy memories. The problem is that she doesn’t know where to start.
Growing up in foster care, Anna always envied her friends their secure and carefree lives, their certainty and confidence. They have been her support along the way, not least Kate, the university pal who has always doled out hugs in times of both happiness and sadness.
And, while her friends may have become her family of choice, Anna is still stuck in a nomadic cycle, looking for answers, and afraid to commit to loving someone totally in case she finds herself at risk of losing them.
With old and new ‘competing for space’ in her contradictory life, can Anna finally find the courage to overcome the past and find out where she belongs?
Parkes fills her searingly honest and ultimately uplifting novel with a rich cast of characters… from the achingly vulnerable Anna and her loyal and loving friend Kate to the dedicated foster carer and social worker who went beyond the call of duty to help a child in need.
Weaving between past and present, Home in every sense of the word, really is at the heart of this terrific tale which comes threaded through with truisms about the importance of love, friendship, resilience, determination, and the indomitable power of hope.
As observers of Anna’s life, we watch her mature from confused, troubled child to ambitious but wary adult, achieving highly at her studies but unable to commit to finding a permanent home or placing any meaningful reliance on friends.
Her long path to final acceptance and a new self-confidence is littered with angst but there are also sunlit uplands of comedy to enjoy, and some poignant moments which are guaranteed to melt even the hardest of hearts.
Written with empathy, and a big helping of love, this dazzling novel will find a home in everyone’s heart.
(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £14.99)