Before I start this review, I want to set you in the mood I was before I read it.
Picture this: You’re young, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. You’ve dreamed of visiting this far off wonderland place which everyone keeps talking about. You’ve seen gorgeous pictures and brochures about the place. People wax poetic about how incredible it is. You look forward to it so much that your insides hurt. You can think of nothing but that place! And then … you step off the plane. The air is humid, you get rained on, some homeless guy urinates on your foot. Yep. You’ve arrived, and do you know what? It’s just a place. It has trees and a sky. It’s still here on earth, so what was all the fuss about? Then you spend a week there, and the beauty of it shines through. A stranger gives you a smile, the coffee is incredible, and you discover the hotel has the best library! Maybe it’s not so bad after all, but it definitely wasn’t what the brochures advertised.
This is how I felt about love when I grew up. I’d heard it was the bees knees, the answer to all my prayers. Well, that’s what the movies and books said. Some perfect guy would come and sweep me off my feet and I’d never have to be sad or alone again. But finding love isn’t all sugar and spice, sometimes it down right hurts.
And when I read the first few chapters of Tess Wood’s new book, I felt like shouting, Hallelujah to the world. Here’s a book that shows love is not just beautiful, but another four letter word: mess.
Beautiful Messy Love follows the journey of two couples as they navigate through the torrid confusion of life. You’ve got Anna (an Egyptian refugee) and Nick (an Aussie Rules Footy star), and then Ben (conflicted husband of a dying woman) and Lily (medical student with a broken heart). Nick and Lily are the children of the main couple you find in Tess’s first book, Love at first Flight, however, you don’t have to read it to enjoy this one.
Of the two couples in Beautiful Messy Love, my favourite by far was Nick and Anna. The story woven for Anna’s background is just amazing, authentic and tragic. After being a progressive politician’s daughter in Egypt and losing half her family to an act of terrorism, Anna is now waiting tables at two restaurants, volunteering at a charity, caring for a sick refugee orphan, and trying to keep her mother’s happiness afloat. You get insight into Anna’s heart when she writes letters to her lost sister, and it’s a truly touching read. For Anna, her religion and ethnicity clash with Nick who is firmly in the media spotlight. It was bittersweet to watch unfold. At times it felt hilarious, like ‘My Big Fat Egyptian Wedding’ and other times it was heartbreaking, because you know that’s exactly how the media would act, you’ve seen it a million times and, quite frankly, it makes you ashamed to be a human.
And then there’s Ben, who is nursing his dying wife, even though she left him. He’s stuck between loyalty and his own heart so much that he doesn’t really know what he wants anymore. Then he sees Lily who’s just had her heart stomped on and they fall in love, lust or something in between. Lily is also dealing with self-discovery and for a while, loses herself again to this new relationship.
There’s an Aussie Rules grand final, boat people, mixed-race relationships, and a girl with mermaid hair. This is the real Australia, and Tess Woods has captured it perfectly.
This book is as much about finding yourself and navigating through the mess of life as it is about love. I think Tess Woods is incredibly brave to tackle issues such as religion, prejudice, and diversity in the world, and incredibly smart for tying it all together in a story that does everything a publisher says not to do in such a way that has you laughing and at the same time reaching for a box of tissues to wipe those stray tears away.
As a budding writer, I always like to take a writing lesson from the books I review, and this is what I learned from reading Beautiful Messy Love: You don’t have to follow the rules. You can start the book with a break-up, you can write each of your characters view-point in first person. You can do whatever the hell you want, as long as you stay true to the story you want to write.
I have no doubt Tess Woods is going places in the world of writing. Do yourself a favour and read this book. It comes out on July the 24th in Australia, and you can pre-order it at Tess Wood’s website.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you HarperCollins.