Ethan Joella’s novel A Little Hope takes you into the lives of a small town Connecticut community, with all the setbacks and disappointment, success and joy which people experience over the course of one year.
Freddie and Greg Tyler seem to have it all: a comfortable home at the edge of the woods, a beautiful young daughter, a bond that feels unbreakable. But when Greg is diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, the sense of certainty they once knew evaporates overnight.
Meanwhile, Darcy Crowley is still coming to terms with the loss of her husband as she worries over her struggling adult son, Luke. Elsewhere, Ginger Lord returns home longing for a lost relationship; Ahmed Ghannam wonders if he’ll ever find true love; and Greg’s boss, Alex Lionel, grapples with a secret of his own.
Ethan Joella quickly drew me into the everyday lives of his characters with all their hopes and concerns. Each chapter shifts from one character to another but it never seemed as if we were jumping around, thanks to how smoothly he makes each transition. The story flows back and forth between these friends, colleagues and neighbours, while still managing to contain the depth and poignancy of a short story within most chapters. In fact, A Little Hope reads as if it’s a collection of linked short stories, all stitched together as seamlessly as Freddie Tyler’s skilled needlework.
Ethan Joella’s writing is wonderfully deft and assured, and his novel a gentle and reflective read. That’s not to say it’s uneventful. He quietly detonates bombshells in controlled explosions all across this small town. One family has to deal with a life-shattering diagnosis, which sends ripples out across their wider circle of friends and colleagues. Couples deal with the loss of a child while others face up to becoming a parent or grandparent, or whether they even want that. Adults question where they are in life and what success or failure looks like. Past loves run into each other again; newer relationships take their first hesitant steps or falter; and others grieve their lost loved ones. There’s also someone hoping to avoid ‘another Finland situation’ but you’ll have to read the book to discover what that is all about.
The residents of Wharton go through so much in the space of a year and Ethan Joella ensures that we experience it with them. We witness their looks and gestures, hear their thoughts and what they actually say out loud, together with how these are read or misinterpreted. We often gain a better appreciation of the situation and any undercurrents than a spouse/parent/friend does, which often gives us an unfair advantage over the other person in the conversation or interaction. It’s as much about those critical silences, missteps, or gaps in understanding as it is when a look or the touch of a hand conveys everything we want to say and provides the necessary comfort or reassurance.
A Little Hope is brimful of life—that is, everything messy, complicated and flawed about human life—such as love and loss, health and sickness, fear and betrayal, loyalty and bravery, disappointment and jealousy, failure and success, misunderstandings and secrets, kindness and cruelty, relationships and friendship, joy and compassion. It shows the power of a gentle touch and the scars left by harsh words, how much can turn on a missed opportunity or things left unsaid, but also what can be rescued by being brave or taking a risk. Luke, Greg, Darcy and Ginger may have broken me here but Alex, Iris, Ahmed and Freddie certainly put me back together again in this book.
When I started reading A Little Hope, I felt as if I were on some rambling extended walk around a new neighbourhood with an enhanced audio guide which not only allowed me to eavesdrop on people’s conversations but also made me privy to their more private, inner thoughts. Ethan Joella’s writing quickly drew me right into his characters’ lives, coaxing me closer and closer until I found myself wrapped up in them. By the time I finished reading, I was heavily invested and felt as much a part of this small town community in Connecticut, as Freddie, Greg, Darcy, Luke, Ginger, Ahmed and Alex.
Ethan Joella traces the connections people make (and break) and shows how these impact upon us in choosing how we respond or by letting them inform who we become. A Little Hope is a bittersweet, meditative novel about a year in the life of this small group of friends and neighbours; this thoughtful and thought-provoking book is filled with love, loss, the healing power of forgiveness and redemption, and there’s more than a little hope in that. I can’t recommend it enough.
A Little Hope by Ethan Joella is published by Muswell Press in the UK and is available as an ebook and in hardcover. You can find it at Amazon UK (affiliate link), Bookshop.org (affiliate link), Hive and Waterstones. You can find the author at his Author Website or over on Instagram or on Twitter.
My thanks to Fiona Brownlee for offering me a review copy and for inviting me on the blog tour: