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Book Review: The Road to California by Louise Walters

The Road to California is Louise Walters’ third novel and the second to come out under her own imprint. It follows three family members over the course of a year as they attempt to reconnect for the sake of the son, Ryan, who is having a difficult time at school.

Proud single parent Joanna is accustomed to school phoning to tell her that her fourteen year old son Ryan is in trouble. But when Ryan hits a girl and is excluded from school, Joanna knows she must take drastic action to help him.

Ryan’s dad Lex left home when Ryan was two years old. Ryan doesn’t remember him – but more than anything he wants a dad in his life.

Isolated, a loner, and angry, Ryan finds solace in books and wildlife. Joanna, against all her instincts, invites Lex to return and help their son. But Lex is a drifter who runs from commitment, and both Joanna and Ryan find their mutual trust and love is put to the test when Lex returns, and vows to be part of the family again.

I liked how we meet Joanna and Ryan first and have a chance to see what their relationship is like for a while before Lex appears. It helped me to understand how much Joanna is trying as a single parent to do the right thing by her son, and how her sole help comes in the form of the wonderful Billy Plumb, who I thought was a terrific character and Joanna was fortunate to have as a neighbour.

As well as being a single parent, Joanna faces the additional challenge of running her own business. She crafts bespoke quilts and other handmade items from secondhand fabrics: “She took great pride in using the used, a characteristic of almost all her work… Reusing, reclaiming, recycling, upcycling: whatever you wanted to call it – it was what she did.”

This is apt because she’s about to put her business ethos into practice in her home life and reclaim Ryan’s father, Lex, and restore him to the family he deserted when Ryan was still too young to remember him. It’s a huge step for Joanna to take, especially after how badly he let her down once before. I really felt for her and appreciated how much this costs her. It shows how determined she is to try whatever it takes in order to help Ryan through this rough patch by putting his needs above her own feelings.

Although Lex may seem like the bad guy here for having run out on them, he’s actually as sympathetic a character as Joanna and Ryan, thanks to how Louise Walters portrays them all. There’s a genuine warmth and tenderness shown towards them in her writing and I couldn’t help but take to these people, Ryan especially. I also enjoyed watching the dynamic shift and change between the main three characters over the course of the book which follows them for twelve months from June 2006 to June 2007 with a final chapter set ten years on in 2017 to give us an update.

It may be a small family unit and a relatively small cast of characters generally but The Road to California covers the big themes of trust, loss, love and family. It’s a novel filled with moments of such sadness, humour, frustration, contentment and utter joy that I felt involved in this family’s story, as much as I would like to have been wrapped up in one of Joanna’s quilts while reading it. The road it takes doesn’t lead where I was expecting it to, and this may not please all readers, but it worked for me. Louise Walters’ The Road to California is as beautiful and delicately stitched together a novel as its namesake quilt.

The Road to California by Louise Walters is published by Louise Walters Books and is available an an ebook and in paperback. You can buy direct from the Online Bookshop or find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive where purchases help support your local independent bookshop. For more on the author, check out Louise Walters Books, her Facebook Page or on Twitter

My thanks to the author and publisher for providing me with a review copy via NetGalley.  

*GIVEAWAY* I have one signed copy of The Road to California with a fabric bookmark (and possibly some mini eggs if the squirrels haven’t eaten them) to give away. Leave a comment below and the squirrels will pick a winner next week. 

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