How to Walk Away by Katherine Center published in 2018.
“Margaret Jacobsen has a bright future ahead of her; a fiancé she adores, her dream job, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in one tumultuous moment. In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again, Margaret must figure out how to move forward on her own terms while facing long-held family secrets, devastating heartbreak, and the idea that life might find her in the last place she would ever expect.”
This might be my favourite title for a book because it represents the story in both a physical and emotional way.
The novel is from the point of view of Margaret, a young woman who has her entire future mapped out. In a grand gesture to propose, her boyfriend practically forces her to fly in the plane that he’s piloting (even though she had a fear of flying). He ends up crashing the plane on landing, and while he walks away without a scratch, she is left is third-degree burns on her neck and paralyzed from the knees down. Margaret is now faced with a totally different future than she expected, and the reader follows her through conflicting emotions of despair and hope.
First thing I usually touch on in these reviews is characters, so let’s discuss. The voice of Margaret is very powerful yet relatable. She has this dry sense of humour that resonates well with me, yet it also leads to the unavoidable dark thoughts one might have if they were in her place. I’m so glad that it didn’t have the sickeningly inspiring commentary that a lot of tragic stories have, as Margaret’s character told it as it is. It’s awful. It’s something that no one would ever wish to go through, no matter how “wise” or “enlightened” you come out on the other side. It’s like most things terrible things in life when it happens, you just deal with it and move on best you can.
Speaking of characters, Center had this incredible ability to flip my feelings about a character, specifically Margaret’s mother, Linda. She is made out to be the villain at first, yet it’s later her vulnerable side is revealed through exposing her past faults. I went from hating her presence to wanting to comfort her, a giant leap for a side character in a grander story. I was thoroughly impressed.
Prefacing the novel, Center opened her acknowledgments by saying that she had to do massive amounts of research for this book, and you can definitely tell by the events that take place. Like I mentioned before, it’s realistic in the mix of positive and negative emotions. It’s the epitome of the saying “You don’t know what you have until you lose it.” I caught myself wiggling my toes a lot while reading this, and thinking of all the times I’ve used my legs, and all the times I will use my legs in the future. If there’s ever a book to read that will put you in your place and allow you to feel grateful, it’s How to Walk Away.
There was a scene that reminded me of one of my favourite books, The Catcher in the Rye. I have no idea if this minimal connection was intentional, but I noticed it and it warmed by heart. For those of who have never read The Catcher in the Rye, the main character Holden makes an observation about time while visiting the Museum of Natural History. He remarks that every time he visits it, he’s changed in some kind of way as a person, yet the museum stays the same. There’s a scene in this book where Margaret feels a remarkably similar feeling about her grandparent’s cabin for the first time after the accident,
“Being back here was exactly as bad as I’d feared. Everything was the same as it had been since my grandparents had bought the place in the sixties. The screen porch door still squeaked and slapped. The gopher hole by the back steps hadn’t moved. The pear trees my grandmother had planted still rustled in the breeze.
The only thing different was me.”
I love this scene for more than just its relation to Holden, but for its relevance in everyone’s live. We all have a place like Holden’s museum or Margaret’s cabin.
A major aspect of the story I didn’t mention in my personal summary was that Margaret ends up falling in love with her physical therapist, Ian. Their journey of healing by each other’s side is heart wrenching and genuine. Though my favourite part is that the story did not revolve around this romance, it was simply another aspect of Margaret’s story. This story had so much more to it; identity, estranged families, rocky recoveries and more. He is not the prince that comes to save her, but just someone that helped her save herself. I will admit, some scenes with him were a bit too cheesy for my taste, such as on the boat near the end, but I’ll also say that this story is so bleakly realistic that maybe Margaret deserved a few fairytale moments. Some parts near the end even made me cry a little bit.
I want to be best friends with Margaret and her sister Kitty. I was itching to help them and for them to help me at the same time. In fact, I feel like I do know these characters as if I just sat down with Margaret for an afternoon and she told me her life story. I think everyone should immerse themselves in her world and try and learn a little from her. The heartbreak and desperation were almost palpable, yet the hope that ultimately founds its way to Margaret is awe-inspiring to the extreme and definitely worth the read for anyone who can get their hands on this book.