Everything Happens For A Reason by Katie Allen #BookReview #BlogTour

Mum-to-be Rachel did everything right, but it all went wrong. Her son, Luke, was stillborn and she finds herself on maternity leave without a baby, trying to make sense of her loss.

When a misguided well-wisher tells her that “everything happens for a reason”, she becomes obsessed with finding that reason, driven by grief and convinced that she is somehow to blame. She remembers that on the day she discovered her pregnancy, she’d stopped a man from jumping in front of a train, and she’s now certain that saving his life cost her the life of her son.

Desperate to find him, she enlists an unlikely ally in Lola, an Underground worker, and Lola’s seven-year-old daughter, Josephine, and eventually tracks him down, with completely unexpected results…

Both a heart-wrenchingly poignant portrait of grief and a gloriously uplifting and disarmingly funny story of a young woman’s determination, Everything Happens for a Reason is a bittersweet, life- affirming read and, quite simply, unforgettable.

It's such a pleasure to be hosting my second Orenda Books blog tour for #JubilantJune with my review and an extract from Everything Happens For A Reason. Many thanks to Katie Allen, Orenda Books and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours.

Every year during Baby Loss Awareness Week, I light a candle for the annual Wave of Light. I had two miscarriages before my first daughter and another prior to my third but I also have friends and relatives whose babies were stillborn or died shortly after birth, including my Mum, whose first child - a son called Shaun - was born prematurely and my mother-in-law whose firstborn son, Colin went to full-term but died during labour. It's not something that those who suffer will ever get over; I see it in their Facebook posts on the anniversaries of their loss and I've heard it in the conversations I've had with my mother-in-law and my mum before she passed away.
Rachel has only recently given birth to her son, Luke but instead of taking a newborn baby home, she returned to a house filled with reminders about what she'd lost. In the first few weeks and months afterwards, she has become understandably hypersensitive, noticing which of her friends and relations are slow or fail to respond with condolences. Worse still, she receives an insensitive invitation to a baby shower and then somebody else tells her that 'everything happens for a reason'. 
It's this phrase she latches on to, because to accept that Luke died for no reason feels worse. The book's narrative comes in the form of emails she writes to her son, at first discussing the things said and unsaid before she becomes determined to identify the reason why she lost her baby. It means that this is a deeply personal story and we only ever really see Rachel's pain. It's not surprising, therefore, that she may seem dismissive of her husband, Ed's feelings or that her mum might appear tactless at times. We don't know what's going on in their heads; this is Rachel's response to what happened and though grief is universal , each person's experience of it will be as unique as they are.
She becomes obsessed with the thought that saving the life of a suicidal man on the day she found out she was pregnant was the reason why Luke wasn't allowed to live - one life for another. She is determined to track him down and enlists the help of an Underground worker, Lola. As she and Lola become friends, she is also introduced to her young daughter, Josephine. JoJo lights up the novel and in a book which is searingly honest, her presence brings irresistible joy to the proceedings.
After Rachel finds the man, she embarks on a new plan to convince herself that everything happens for a reason. She doesn't always come across that well and I can understand why some readers may struggle to like her. She is intrusive and condescending, her actions sometimes thoughtless at best, and worryingly damaging at worst. However, grief is overwhelmingly self-centred, I wouldn't pretend to know exactly how Rachel - or anybody who has suffered baby loss - feels but I have experienced a sudden, unexpected loss and I know that it takes up every thought inside your head. When your world has been knocked from its axis, it's as though you've lost a layer of skin and that raw pain consumes every part of you.
However, for all its poignant candour Everything Happens For A Reason isn't a depressing story. This is an intimate, honest portrayal of grief but it's also a warm, engagingly witty read. The structuring of the book means each email chapter is short yet addictive, ensuring I couldn't resist reading on. Astute, engrossing and uplifting; Katie Allen has written this emotional novel from the heart and it shows. Highly recommended.

To: LRS_17@outlook.com 
Thu 23/2, 23:12 
SUBJECT: Only way out 

They dropped EHFAR on me, they will have to disarm it. 
I called my mother (sorry, the whole Grandma thing isn’t working for me) and got Graham’s number. I woke her, but she likes to feel needed. 
When Graham texts straight back, I picture him as a religious meerkat, always on alert, miniature guitar on his back. He’d love to come over for coffee, he says. Is eight too early? (Happy people. Bet he jogs, too.)

To: LRS_17@outlook.com 
Fri 24/2, 13:05 
SUBJECT: Connections 

Graham’s visit is messy. 
The newsagent only stocks biscuits containing eggs and/or other animal parts. So I peel and chop some carrots, arranging them as a crucifix, then a sun. In the end, I manage to create a random pattern. Thank God we said eleven. 
I move the more sweary of E’s ‘artworks’ and rearrange the contents of the recycling bin so the beer bottles are obscured by a copy of the Guardian – Graham seems like someone who helps clear the table. 
What people wear shouldn’t matter, but it does. I lift down the box from the top of the wardrobe and find the pre-you jeans. The widest ones do up easily and the first top I try – dark green, high neck – works well with them. I brush my hair and I’m back to how I was, in the before. The last traces of your short life are leaving my body. The bleeding has slowed to a trickle. 
It’s wrong. We can’t do this yet, or ever. I climb into bed and wrap myself around that long pillow we bought for you. I feel for your kicks. 
But he’ll be here any minute. I pick myself up, wash my face and put the jeans back in their box. I stick with the maternity cords. At least that’s the plan. It’s only when I’m in the doorway, staring at Graham’s dog collar, and his eyes wander down to my bare thighs that I realise I missed a step. 
‘Sorry, mishap,’ I say. ‘In the kitchen.’ 
I run upstairs while he parks his bike on the hall carpet. 
When I return, he’s let himself into the lounge, Bible on his lap. 
He gestures to the carrot sticks. ‘I didn’t realise you had an older one.’ 
‘I don’t.’
We pray for you while the kettle boils. He says that you’re in God’s care now. He’s part vicar, part child-protection services. You’re safe, nothing can harm you. 
‘I saved someone’s life,’ I interrupt. 
He mumbles, ‘Amen.’ 
‘Last summer. Oval Tube. He was jumping, I grabbed him.’ 
His palm is sticky, I slide my hand free. 
‘What happened to him?’ he says. 
‘The Tube staff took over.’ 
‘What about you? Was there someone for you to talk to?’ 
‘They pushed me out the way. I couldn’t see him, his face. But it’s nothing really. You would have done the same.’ I retreat to the kitchen, asking, ‘Do you think everything happens for a reason? Someone said that to me.’ I linger by the sink, giving him time to get his answer right. When I return with the coffee, he has his Bible open. 
‘Not what it says in there. I want to know what you think,’ I say. 
He closes it before I can see the page. He pulls off his dog collar – it’s plastic and springy. ‘You can touch it if you want,’ he says. 
I flex it, turn it over in my hands. I want to hold it up to my neck and look in the mirror. ‘Yes,’ he says. ‘Yes, I do think so. Everything happens for a reason.’ 
‘Then it’s a shitty system.’ I hand the dog collar back. 
‘How do you explain that to Syrians? Or the tsunami people, abused children? What reason do you give them?’ 
He’s ready with an answer. 
‘There are connections you cannot see. You’re being too earthly.’ 
In other words, it’s still my fault. 

Everything Happens For A Reason is published by Orenda Books. It can be purchased directly from their website, Bookshop.org, Hive, Waterstones, Amazon or order from your favourite independent bookshop.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
Everything Happens for a Reason is Katie’s first novel. She used to be a journalist and columnist at the Guardian and Observer, and started her career as a Reuters correspondent in Berlin and London. The events in Everything Happens for a Reason are fiction, but the premise is loosely autobiographical. Katie’s son, Finn, was stillborn in 2010, and her character’s experience of grief and being on maternity leave without a baby is based on her own. And yes, someone did say to her ‘Everything happens for a reason’. Katie grew up in Warwickshire and now lives in South London with her husband, children, dog, cat and stick insects. When she’s not writing or walking children and dogs, Katie loves baking, playing the piano, reading news and wishing she had written other people’s brilliant novels.


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