When an ordinary park bench becomes a lifeline …
As a primary school teacher, Ava Lam is familiar with the ‘buddy bench’: a rainbow painted bench where sad or lonely children can sit to show they need a friend.
But are buddy benches just for kids? Ava might have assumed so – until she finds herself sobbing her heart out on a park bench and a kind stranger sits down next to her.
The stranger, Dr Sam Stone, has a house, an impressive job and he’s even training for a marathon – all things that have become painfully out of reach for Ava in her new and scary circumstances. But whilst Sam appears to have everything figured out, it seems he needs a sympathetic ear just as much as she does.
Is the encounter a one-off, or could the ‘buddy bench’ begin to represent a source of comfort and support that will become precious to them both?
Hannah Pearl was born in East London. She is married with two children and now lives in Cambridge.
She has previously worked as a Criminology researcher at a university in Leicester, as a Development Worker with various charities and even pulled a few pints in her time.
In 2015 she was struck down by Labrynthitis, which left her feeling dizzy and virtually housebound. She has since been diagnosed with ME. Reading has allowed Hannah to escape from the reality of feeling ill. She read upwards of three hundred books during the first year of her illness. When her burgeoning ereader addiction grew to be too expensive, she decided to have a go at writing. In 2017 she won Simon and Schuster’s Books and the City #heatseeker short story competition, in partnership with Heat magazine, for her short story The Last Good Day.
Hannah writes for both Choc Lit and Ruby Fiction.
What a rollercoaster storyline for Ava. She is battling extreme exhaustion but nobody is taking her seriously. She is a primary school teacher and after months of struggling, she finds herself alone in her flat, after breaking down in school. She is unable to to the simplist of tasks and heartbreakingly no longer able to do her job.
The diagnosis is eventually that of M.E. and what is interesting is that not only is the illness close to the author’s own health, it shows and describes just how deliberating this illness is and also that not illnessess are visible or understood.
Not only was Ava going through many emotions, the lovely Dr Sam, who she meets whilst sat on the bench absolutely inconsolable, also is. He has his wife and has his own trauma and challenges to overcome as well.
The story finds them becoming close friends and often seeking each other out on the bench – quite often Sam running past it during his marathon training. They develop a strong bond and help and support each other, in ways others simply are unable to help or understand. Their meetings become more frequent and their friendship slowly evolves into a romance like no other.
I liked how even in the darkest moments there were brighter times and loved how believable and relatable all of the characters are as well.
This is a lovely story of loneliness, illness, friendship and love. The love is different sorts of love, from family, romantic and friendship. I enjoyed the way the author developed all the various strands and wove them together in a beautiful way. Sam and Ava’s developing relationship is what you are rooting for but their back stories are as interesting. I found the whole description of ME, the illness Ava is suffering with, very clearly understandable, an illness I knew of but not in any complete way. That the author is a sufferer is told at the end and explains how the illness is so clearly explained. A brilliant read which will involve you in their lives and have you asking “what next”.
Have a box of tissues handy.
When Ava Lam is suddenly struck down with an unknown illness, she’s unable to continue her much loved job as a primary school teacher. With little or no medical help offered, her symptoms become worse and unmanageable. Feeling at her lowest point, she’s sitting on a park bench when a stranger hears her crying and sits close by. The stranger that stopped is widower Dr Sam Stone, they both need someone to talk to and the bench becomes their meeting place.
Both a demanding and a rewarding read, this is an incredibly emotional book which will enlighten the reader to a frequently misunderstood and debilitating illness.
Not to be missed, far better than I expected.