I’m late posting this review because our book group decided to gift the book to one of our members who’s getting married this month. And she reads this blog, so I didn’t want to post my review in case she went out and bought it before we’d had a chance to give her the signed copy we’d organised. That’s now done (at a rather wonderful open-air book group meeting earlier this week) which leaves me free to let you all know how much I loved Keith Stuart’s second novel, Days of Wonder, and why it’s one of my top reads of the year so far. Here’s what it’s about:
Tom, single father to Hannah, is the manager of a tiny local theatre. On the same day each year, he and its colourful cast of part-time actors have staged a fantastical production just for his little girl, a moment of magic to make her childhood unforgettable.
But there is another reason behind these annual shows: the very first production followed Hannah’s diagnosis with a heart condition that both of them know will end her life early. And now, with Hannah a funny, tough girl of fifteen on the brink of adulthood, that time is coming.
With the theatre under threat of closure, Hannah and Tom have more than one fight on their hands to stop the stories ending. But maybe, just maybe, one final day of magic might just save them both.
The magical title and gorgeous cover held out the promise of recapturing some of the wonder I felt while reading Pamela Brown’s Swish of the Curtain theatre stories in my teens. And, while a young girl with a terminal heart condition might not sound like the basis for an uplifting story, I knew that Keith Stuart could conjure one up having read his debut novel A Boy Made of Blocks.
Tom is doing his best to navigate his daughter’s teenage years of exams and relationships and a growing need for privacy and independence with the competing demands of managing his daughter’s condition which requires constant vigilance and keeping the struggling local theatre open. Hannah wants to be as normal a teenager as possible while health setbacks remind her she isn’t and that her future is uncertain and limited. They’re characters I came to know well and really felt for, as the story progressed. The heart of the book is the tender father-daughter relationship and it feels true here; there is humour and affection alongside the secrets they keep and disagreements they have. I enjoyed the dynamic between these two.
Days of Wonder may well be a moving father-daughter story but there is an entire cast of characters with layers of relationships, all of which lift the novel, making it into something truly special. There are friends and family (more theatrical than biological) and then the wider community within which the theatre operates. Of these, I most enjoyed the intergenerational friendship between Hannah and Margaret, and was positively willing Margaret’s outrageous stories to be true.
I cried when I wasn’t expecting to, and loved how this wasn’t a sappy story about a delicate helpless princess-type but instead of which a modern-day teenage girl facing an extraordinary contemporary curse with attitude and spirit, the loving care of her Dad and her motley theatre family and friends. Days of Wonder isn’t a fairytale story of how one girl is saved (even if there are fairies within its pages).
It’s the story of that more everyday magic when people are there for each other, sharing the wonder and joy, no matter what life’s throwing at them. Days of Wonder is a story with a great deal of heart, and I loved it for that. I’d give it to everyone I know, if I could.
Days of Wonder by Keith Stuart is published by Sphere, an imprint of the Little, Brown Group. It is available as an audiobook and an ebook and in hardback. You can find it at Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Waterstones and Wordery. Keith Stuart is also the author of A Boy Made of Blocks, on Twitter as KeefStuart.
My thanks to Clara Diaz at the publisher for providing me with a copy for review and NetGalley.