Review of ...And a Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne
...And a Happy New Year?
by Holly Bourne
Just over a year ago I read What’s a Girl Gotta Do?, the last novel in the Spinster Club trilogy featuring teenagers Evie, Amber, and Lottie figuring out life, feminism, mental health, and the tricky transition into adulthood. Each of those three books examines slightly different facets of these motifs. Holly Bourne has proved herself, time and again, to be a sensitive, witty author whose writing finds the right tone to be edifying and also entertaining. With …And a Happy New Year? she provides a compelling coda to the Spinster Club’s journey, at least for this chapter of their lives.
Amber is throwing an illicit New Year’s party at her parents’ house while they are out of town for the holidays. Lottie is back in town from uni in London, and Evie is coming too. The three friends have been growing a little distant over the past few months, with Lottie away, Evie wrapped up in her relationship with Oli, and Amber trying to figure out what she wants—even if it means having to move to Rhode Island for school. As the clock counts down to midnight, the three girls cruise towards an inevitable collision of conflicting friendship goals. The result is an implosive mixture of tears and tender recriminations and a painful but optimistic reminder that it is possible to hold on to the things you hold most dear even as you are rocked and buffeted by the winds of change.
This is perhaps one of the best examples of a nearly totally character-driven novella I’ve read in a while. Bourne alternates among the perspectives of each of our three protagonists, allowing us to understand where they are coming from. The actual plot, the events of the book, are somewhat ancillary to the real focus, which is the Spinster Club friendship at the heart of all of this. Bourne has Amber, Evie, and Lottie confront a truth that we all eventually experience: as we grow up, sometimes we grow apart. The theme is a corollary simple and obvious yet no less sublime in presentation: just because we grow up doesn’t mean we have to grow apart.
As with the previous novels, it’s likely you’ll recognize little bits of yourself in each of these characters. Amber is reluctant to share her impending departure with the other two women. She’s nervous about what it signifies for their relationship, and understandably so. It can be so difficult to share news of that kind with one’s closest friends, especially if that news means you’re going to see them less.
Evie is feeling guilty on both ends: she feels guilty that she has been neglecting Amber and Lottie by spending more time with Oli, whose anxiety has confined him to his house; on the other hand, she feels guilty for leaving Oli just to go to this party. This story arc really resonated for me, and I can empathize with both Evie and Oli. I’m someone who sometimes pours too much of myself into a caregiver role with friends, and I really value narratives that remind you that you can’t be someone’s panacea. Similarly, I frequently fear I’m being an Oli—clingy, passively-aggressively texting my best friends when I know they are out living their lives just because I’m not out living mine. It isn’t quite the same as Oli’s experience, but I keep an eye out for similar behaviours. I love how the book represents Evie’s “bad thoughts” on the page, how Bourne references discussions Evie has had with her therapist and Oli’s therapist, how this whole arc underscores the dangers of codependency while remaining sympathetic to the fact that no one is perfect at any of this.
Lottie is perhaps the most adrift of the three women. I say this because, having been the most recent viewpoint character, she came across as so confident in the previous novel. Indeed, we learn that her project from What’s a Girl Gotta Do? catapulted her to enough notoriety that she is on the newspaper team for her school despite being a freshman. She doesn’t like her roommates, at all, and she feels miserable and abandoned by her two friends, neither of whom have visited her. In short, Lottie is having trouble adjusting to the new flow of life at uni, especially away from home. This is so normal and common, and while it’s not really within my experiences, I can totally sympathize with people who have felt this.
What makes …And a Happy New Year? so great, though, is the way that Bourne combines these three character arcs into a single, incredibly effective story. It’s difficult for me to describe briefly here in a review, but I think this is most evident in something Evie observes. We’ve previously learned that Amber believes Lottie’s distance from the group is because she is just so in love with London uni life she doesn’t have time for her two friends any more. Evie, on the other hand, seems to have sussed out something closer to the truth. In this way, Bourne reminds us how different friends are going to have differing perspectives on why we act the way we do, and those perspectives—influenced by their own personalities—will vary in accuracy over time. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this novella really captures the rich complexity of friendships—something that is sometimes lost in fiction, which has a tendency to flatten friendships for the sake of narrative efficiency.
Yesterday I watched, for the second time, a brilliant little indie flick called Almost Adults. Its 22-year-old protagonists are best friends. Like the Spinster Club, they are experiencing transitional times as they leave school again. They both make mistakes that strain their friendship, which is a little to co-dependent. Their behaviour strikes me, as an older viewer, as lamentably, familiarly immature—but that’s, of course, the nature of being a young adult. They navigate these issues for the very first time and have to learn and make mistakes along the way.
The Spinster Club trilogy and this coda novella is not a road map for avoiding the heartbreak and heartache of friendship conflict. It is, however, a striking work of modern fiction about friendships and feminism. It’s a series of novels about being brave, and about accepting help from others. I highly recommend all three novels, with …And a Happy New Year? as a perfect ending. And while Amber, Evie, and Lottie’s stories are over for now, Bourne has already shown herself more than capable of writing novels with older protagonists confronting the struggles important at their age.