This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech #BookReview #Extract #BlogTour

Sebastian James Murphy is twenty years, six months and two days old. He loves swimming, fried eggs and Billy Ocean. Sebastian is autistic. And lonely. Veronica wants her son Sebastian to be happy, and she wants the world to accept him for who he is. She is also thinking about paying a professional to give him what he desperately wants.  

Violetta is a high-class escort, who steps out into the night thinking only of money. Of her nursing degree. Paying for her dad’s care. Getting through the dark.  

When these three lives collide, and intertwine in unexpected ways, everything changes. For everyone.  

Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, This Is How We Are Human is a powerful, moving and thoughtful drama about a mother’s love for her son, about getting it wrong when we think we know what’s best, about the lengths we go to care for family and to survive. 

It is such a pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for This Is How We Are Human today and have an extract from the book as well as my review to share with you. My grateful thanks to Louise Beech, Orenda Books and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

Before I start this review, I'd like to share Louise Beech's explanation of inspiration behind this beautiful book with you. 
“Though This is How We Are Human is fiction, the premise was inspired by my friends, 20-year-old Sean, who is autistic, and his mum Fiona. Fiona had spoken to me about how much Sean longed to meet a girl and have sex. No one talks about this, she said - the difficulties navigating romance often faced by those on the spectrum. It ’s an issue that I wanted to explore. Fiona and Sean encouraged me and guided me through the book; Sean regularly consulted on dialogue, rightly insisting that his voice was heard, was strong, and was accurate. I cannot thank my extraordinary friends enough for their  help and support.” 

This Is How We Are Human has a disturbing opening which finds Sebastian on the brink of making an awful decision. I'm not going to say anything else about what that entails here but as the novel takes us back over the events that brought him to this point, there is an air of foreboding amidst the sure knowledge that something must go wrong.
Before that, however, there are chapters filled with love, anguish, hope and despair, and as always, the most sublime characterisation. Sebastian has been everything to Veronica; since her husband, Pete died, she has been his sole advocate and has fought for him to be given the respect and opportunities he deserves. Sebastian isn't her little boy any more though  he's twenty years, six months and two days old in fact, and like most young men, his thoughts have turned to sex. It's become an obsession and it means he's become even more vulnerable to the cruel taunts and slurs of those who aren't able to see him for who he truly is. Veronica is heartbroken when he comes home hurt after being provoked into becoming aroused by a group of kids on the bus. 
In desperation, she takes him to the Sexual Health Clinic but as with everywhere else she's tried, they don't understand Sebastian and can merely offer meaningless advice or condescending assumptions about him. Like many mothers, Veronica still sees her son as her little boy and yet she has recognised this need in him and putting her own feelings aside, is determined to help him. Her pure love for Sebastian and her hope that he can find what he is searching for can never be doubted but as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that even the best intentions can lead to disappointment and hurt at times.
Meanwhile, Violetta has been working as an escort to pay for her Dad's medical care and to put herself through her nursing degree. As we learn more about Violetta than her real name, who she really is and what she endures at the hands of some of the men who pay her, there is no sugarcoating of the violence she is subjected to here. This will be a raw book for some readers who find it difficult to read about sexual violence but although it's brutal and shocking, it happens off the page so never feels salacious or exploitative. She and Veronica come to an agreement and she comes to an agreement with Sebastian, although he doesn't know that she has been employed as an escort.
What follows is an emotive, heartbreakingly frank story of secrets and lies, dark truths and falling in love. This is no Pretty Woman fantasy, however, it's complex, poignant and searingly honest. Sebastian is, of course, the book's shining light but it's important not to patronise him or demean him. Louise Beech has created a character who is as rightly complex as any other. He is autistic but he's also witty, astute, sexual, angry, loving; in other words he is a wonderfully flawed human being.
Every book that Louise Beech writes is different but they are always undeniably her and are imbued with such warmth, such perceptive humanity that, even when the topics she explores are difficult to read about, you implicitly trust her to leave you feeling deeply moved. This Is How We Are Human is one of those stories that touched my soul; empathic, thought-provoking and truthful, it's an unforgettable triumph.

Veronica strides from the room, head high, and draws on all her strength to close the door quietly. She leans against it, clutching her lapels with trembling hands. Laughter from nearby. Sebastian and Isabelle are at the opposite end of the corridor, by a large tank full of luminous tropical fish. He has the tortoiseshell glasses on upside down and she wears his goggles. He flaps his hands, not in panic, but to mimic a large rainbow fish that swims in circles. 

As Veronica approaches them, she hears him say, ‘I’ve got two fish. In their tank, fish can see all of us and hear all of us, but they’re separate.’ 

‘We have to go now, darling,’ says Veronica, gently. 

‘I don’t want to leave, Mum.’ Sebastian shakes his head. ‘I like Isabelle. She likes me. We look at things with the same eyes. Look – we swapped and tried each other’s on.’ 

‘Isabelle has to work now. You said you wanted to go to KFC.’ 

‘Yes, yes, KFC.’ 

Sebastian takes his goggles carefully from Isabelle’s head and puts the glasses on her, then goes back towards the waiting room. ‘I might just be a student,’ says Isabelle, watching him tidy his hair in the reflection of a large-framed poster, ‘and I don’t know what I would say in your difficult circumstances, but I wouldn’t say some of the things Mel did.’ 

‘Thank you.’ Veronica is moved by this young creature with skin like ivory soap and sad, sad eyes. ‘You’ll make a very special nurse. How long have you got until you graduate?’

‘Six months.’ 

‘Are you specialising?’ 

‘My degree is in learning disability.’ 

‘Wonderful,’ smiles Veronica. ‘Do you know what area you want to go into?’ 

‘I’m not entirely sure yet. I think I’d like to work with children or young adults.’ 

‘Will you look for work around here?’ 

‘I’m not sure yet.’ Isabelle isn’t guarded, rather she seems unable to say the many things that flit across her face. 

‘I hope so,’ says Veronica. ‘We could do with more nurses like you.’

 Sebastian has disappeared around the corner. ‘Look, I have to go. But thank you. And good luck in your career, wherever you go.’

 Veronica heads back to the waiting area, sure she feels Isabelle’s eyes following her. But when she looks back, Isabelle has gone, and the large rainbow fish is still the only one swimming in a circle. Veronica can’t help but wonder if she’s imagined the young nurse, and that if she were to call the clinic tomorrow, they would ask her, ‘Isabelle who? We don’t have anyone called Isabelle here.’ 

When she finds Sebastian studying a book about the Aztecs, she is back in the world where only they exist.

This Is How We Are Human is published by Orenda Books. It can be purchased directly from their website, from, 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
Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Reader’s Choice in 2015. The sequel, The Mountain in My Shoe, was shortlisted for the Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her 2019 novel Call Me Star Girl won Best Magazine’s Book of the Year, and was followed by a ghost-story cum psychological thriller set in a theatre, I Am Dust. 
Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.


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