Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“That’s why they tell their stories. So that we remember them. They used to be our age and once had dreams and hopes just like we do.”
Wow, what an absolute delight this book is! It’s one of the most beautiful, meaningful and touching books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and it really does put an awful lot of things into perspective. This book is the author’s debut and I can’t quite believe how brilliant it is for a first novel! I’m so so happy to be sharing my review on the book’s release day, I hope you’ll all take a look and support if you love women’s fiction!
At the beginning of her college sophomore year in 1994, Sabella Pierce surrenders to her semester-long psych class assignment: volunteer as a companion for eighty-three-year-old nursing-home resident, May. Having grown up with a bitter grandmother and a well-earned lack of enthusiasm for old people, Sabella dreads this project.
But Sabella’s anxiety about her assignment turns to fascination as she discovers May’s vibrant spirit, life of independence, and stash of handwritten letters from the one who got away. Now Sabella is inspired to create a project of her own: reunite these two long-lost lovers while there’s still time.
While visiting, Sabella also encounters Ted, the nursing home’s grungy, flannel-wearing, alternative-rock listening volunteer coordinator. At first, she detests his nonconformist attitude and his constant ribbing of her wealthy upbringing. But as her longtime boyfriend, Ryan, is distracted by his jock friends and a flirty girl from his hometown, opportunities with Ted unfold.
Will the project spark love for Sabella and relight an old flame for May?
This story opened in a way that I’ve never seen before, with everything I read playing out like a movie in my head. It was really quite extraordinary with such a brilliant pace! We’re thrown to different moments in the past which gives us a great back story and a deeper look into the lives of the main characters. I loved Sabella from the very first few pages and we began to learn just what ‘The Project’ was. The author doesn’t hesitate to fill the opening chapters with emotion of every kind and it forces you to become curious about so many things. I instantly seemed to get lost in the author’s words and learning of Sabella and Ryan’s relationship was so refreshing and filled with hope and joy, but even this begins to change. As Sabella gets an assignment in psych class, it doesn’t fill her with joy, but she soon changes her views when she’s introduced to May, an elderly resident who would soon leave a mark on her life that couldn’t be erased.
The author’s tone is easy to digest, with each page being an absolute joy to experience. Each character comes across so well to the reader, their traits and personalities shining through to make readers remember them and feel close to not only them as people, but their stories too, and everything they experience along the way. As the story is set in the mid-90’s, I felt the author had really nailed all the smaller details to take us back to this time, something I feel is very rare to get right. With Ryan telling Sabella to spend more time finding herself than clinging to him, Sabella makes a few changes; seeing new friends, even keeping an open mind with her placement at the nursing home, something she told herself she would never do. I loved learning more about Sabella’s life and was curious to find out more about the direction of her and Ryan’s future. The opening was truly fantastic, and I really couldn’t find any flaw!
Getting to know May was just a breath of fresh air, and even though Sabella didn’t know what to make of her first, I thought she was a brilliant character, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I became attached to this one too. Sabella has had a history with a bossy and fiery grandmother, so meeting a new elderly person was always going to be difficult, even more so with regular visits throughout the semester. I found myself fascinated with May’s stories and grateful for just how interested she was in Sabella’s life. Already, I knew this relationship would be unforgettable and that the journey to follow would stick with me. I’m normally an emotional wreck when there are bonds such as the one between May and Sabella in a book, so I knew I’d be likely to shed a tear or two by the end of this book! Ted was also an intriguing character, and as himself and Sabella met prior to her placement, I just wondered how significant his presence would be in her life. Could he ever take Ryan’s place?
“The trying months proved that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, this too shall pass, and all of that.”
It isn’t long before we’re reading personal letters from someone very special to May, someone who obviously was completely besotted by her. The emotion here hit me a little and I knew it’d only get worse the more we read! (I’m warning you, I can sense an ugly cry coming on later…) Sabella begins to learn more about May’s expectations, and even though she doesn’t initially appreciate all these new rules, she soon begins to abide by them, and her time with May increases as they continue to talk. I felt like Sabella gained some useful life lessons from May, including discussions on both new and lost loves. It was strange how the book makes a reader feel full of warmth, but also manages to give out that little bit of heart break too. The beginning of the book was truly wonderful, and I was so excited to learn more about May’s life, and just how everything she experiences will affect Sabella’s own. I just knew her life would never be quite the same again.
The story regularly travels back to times when Sabella and Ryan met, with each memory building up our bank of knowledge on a number of characters, and just how their lives played out up to the present time. Ryan’s brother’s ex girlfriend, Kari, seems to be spending more time with Ryan, which sets Sabella on edge, and I myself was wondering just how Ryan felt about someone who seemed so close to him, after all the discussions he and Sabella have had recently. Sabella and May’s friendship continues to grow, and I really loved all their cosy little trips to Bingo with the group of Bingo Babes! Already, I felt like I’d known Sabella and May forever, and I’m sure it wouldn’t be long before they felt the same about each other! I could feel that all these smaller scenes in the story were setting us up for something much bigger, perhaps a huge learning curve for Sabella and how she chooses to live her life. I found myself thinking of the first chapter we read in the book, and just how the story would go leading up to this point.
I love just how much variety is in this story – not only do we hear of two women from entirely different generations getting on like a house on fire, but we also hear a lot about about Sabella’s college life, of fun, booze, relationships and anything else that people of her age get up to! It really gives readers the best of both worlds and I loved how these different times are linked together. There is such a big focus on relationships in this book, but I wouldn’t class the book as one of those classic romance novels. It has so much more than this mixed into the pages, especially focusing on challenges and hardships that these women face or have faced in their lives. The author kept me so involved in every aspect of the story and I practically flew through the first half I was enjoying it so much! I was dying to read more letters from May’s ‘one who got away’ – I felt like Sabella could learn so much from this and make some life changing decisions of her own. I also thought readers could benefit too, and apply many of the things Sabella learns to our own lives.
May’s life soon captivated me even more, and I loved hearing about all her wonderful stories from her younger years. The author makes every detail stand out, and the vocabulary used in all these stories transported me to a completely different time. Sabella begins to ask more questions about a favourite time in her life and just what life was like with the mystery Mr Peaches in it – quite frankly, it was something strong, something real, and something Sabella felt like she needed to play a part in. With the decision in her head to try and find May’s lost love, the story took a whole new exciting turn which had me holding onto the author’s every word. I really hoped she’d succeed in finding him before May’s time on Earth was up, and I was desperate for them to have at least one last moment together. God, the emotion really does begin to creep up on you when you least expect it, but my eyes stayed dry for the moment!
“What’s important to you now won’t be what’s important to you next year, or a decade from now. I just wish I knew at your age not to take life so seriously.”
Sabella begins to get closer to Ted, and it’s clear her chats with May seem to be having an effect on how she lives her life and the choices she makes. She begins to understand her feelings better and that she is young and there is no rush to settle down with someone. Sabella and Ted do seem to have an awful lot in common, and it was a precious thing seeing this connection grow. However, her and Ryan’s love for one another was still so intense, which must have confused the hell out of her! With her father on the case of discovering the whereabouts of Mr Peaches, could both Sabella and May find the people they need in their lives right now? They’re so much more alike than Sabella initially thought, and I really admired how much so many elements were linking up in the book. Everything we read is such a pleasant experience and I could have happily read this book forever and a day! However, my curiosity about the ending of the book got to me, and I was eager to learn whether both these characters get the ending they deserve to have.
Kari soon became a character I disliked, as did Sabella, and the feeling was most definitely mutual. Sabella seems to try so hard to keep Ryan to herself, even though her own feelings begin to wander. Some of what Sabella feels in the book was so relatable, and I could remember having similar feelings and attitudes when I was a little younger. I loved how we see the development of her character from the beginning to end – her growth in confidence but also in strength is something that many readers may be able to learn from. Each feeling Sabella goes through seemed to run through my own veins, and it was quite the unexpected experience simply feeling everything so deeply. I thought the two different paths in the story, Sabella’s personal life and her experiences and lessons with May, worked in perfect harmony, and fitted together so well. The author is a clear natural born storyteller, and it most definitely shows in this book.
The story takes a shocking turn and THIS was when when my eyes started to get a little watery. Sabella and May are more closely linked than we could have imagined. I love how Sabella’s family play a much bigger part in her life at this point which I felt was so important. With such shocking discoveries that we couldn’t have possibly predicted, it somehow made me even more attached to the story, and I even felt like I needed to comfort certain characters! It was a strange experience, but one I’m so glad I’ve been a part of. Sabella now has a big secret that she never thought she’d hear. With a dilemma on her hands, would she choose to keep something so heavy to herself, or would she choose to disclose the new information she’s learned to May? The author has amazed me here and took the story down a path which I would have never expected. Tissues are needed with this one, guaranteed!
If all this news wasn’t enough to bear, Ryan has even more that tips Sabella over the edge. I felt like reaching into the pages and dragging her to safety! Her strength at this point in the book was immeasurable, and I felt so proud of everything she’d achieved and of who she had become. It was really quite extraordinary and the author has gone above and beyond anything I could have ever expected. The further we got to the end, the more my heart broke, and I soon thought it was impossible not to break down in tears. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything so powerful before and certainly nothing that has affected me the way this story did. I felt betrayed, alone, and saddened, but also elated and refreshed – quite the combination, but if you choose to read this, you’ll see exactly why!
“I’ve been punched in the stomach and kicked in the head today. I am strong and I can take whatever it is you have to say.”
The final few pages of the book made me sob, and that has never happened with a book in my life! I often feel the emotional side of the books I read, but nothing I’ve read compares to this. My heart hurt, I gave myself a headache and I felt like taking a good hard look at my life and making it the best it could possibly be! Despite feeling all these things so deeply, I loved the positive change Sabella’s experience gave her, and the book left me sitting in silence and awe. The final few pages left me satisfied and also desperate for a second book! Even though I’d like to hear more about Sabella, I also thought the book was rounded off incredibly well without leaving us confused or waiting for answers. A beautiful story which is highly deserving of five stars!
This book is a thing of brilliance – a beautiful journey which brings two generations together. Sabella and May influence each other’s lives in such a way that brings out so much emotion and forces readers to become so immersed in their journey. The author’s talent is extraordinary and I would urge everyone to read this! Nothing I write will ever be able to do this book justice, and I’m already getting impatient waiting for another book! Be prepared to laugh, cry and have your life changed by reading this story – heart-warming and unforgettable to the very core.
A huge thank you to the author of this book, Stacey Potter, for my copy! You can purchase your own copy of The Project now on Amazon, available on Kindle and paperback. Make sure you’re following the author over on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date!