INTO MY ARMS
Author: Kylie Ladd
Allen & Unwin RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
To spoil or not to spoil? That seems to be the big question for a number of reviewers of Into My Arms by Kylie Ladd. It’s a fair question because in this case, it’s difficult to keep the twist secret forever (in fact, I knew the twist before I read the book). While I will do my utmost to bite my tongue (fingers?) for those in the dark, I will make one point: in this case, the twist is only part of the story and it’s revealed fairly quickly. The real story comes from the characters’ (and readers’) responses to the twist; Into My Arms is about confronting the reader with a situation that forces them to think about what they would do. During a Facebook Q&A (great idea, by the way), Ladd said while spoilers did impact on stories, she hoped readers who did know the twist would still enjoy the book, reiterating my point that the book was about responses rather than the spoiler/twist itself. I know what’s going to happen in Downton Abbey series 3 (blame Twitter for that), but I am still going to watch it from start to finish!
So, what’s the story with Into My Arms? Skye is working as an artist-in-residence at a primary school when she meets Ben, a teacher. Their attraction is instantaneous, intense and irresistible; unable to ignore it, Skye breaks up with her boyfriend, Hamish, to be with Ben. The resulting affair is passionate and all-consuming; it’s not just about the sex – both feel completely in sync and in love. Neither Ben or Skye has ever felt like this before and they know it’s the real thing; if they didn’t believe in soulmates before, they’re in no doubt now of their existence. The reader is in no doubt either – Ben and Skye have something very powerful.
But Skye’s mother is unsettled; her intuition tells her something is not right, despite her desire for Skye to be happy. It’s just that there’s something about Ben that makes her uneasy with the relationship. Her investigations lead to a shocking and devastating discovery that, once revealed, tears apart Skye and Ben, shattering them with its horrible truth. Skye becomes a shell of the vibrant woman she was; Ben withdraws from his family, unable to face them. In their own ways they move through the stages of grief – denial, anger, acceptance (although they never really find closure) – and eventually move on with their lives, burying the past as best they can. And it works, sort of … until the day they meet again and old feelings rush back up from the depths.
There’s also a sub-plot involving Zia, a young Iranian boy, which is interesting as a diversion. Skye and Ben, and later, Skye’s brother become involved with Zia’s situation – he and his family are refugees trying to make a new life in Australia. However, two of Zia’s brothers were left behind – not by choice – and their mother is depressed and not coping. From a thematic perspective, there are links – the strength of family ties, making a new life, coping with trauma, prejudice and more. I enjoyed this sub-plot but wasn’t really convinced it needed to be there; it didn’t detract from Skye and Ben’s story, but I’m not sure that it added to it either.
The writing style is very different, but in terms of unpacking a controversial topic and giving it heart, Ladd is in the same ballpark as Jodi Piccoult and Caroline Overington, both writers I admire. Ladd has chosen a difficult topic, one that will challenge many readers, but treats it with respect, sensitivity and compassion. The twist is horrible –it will literally twist your gut; yet, removing the instinctive shudder and judgment, it’s also achingly sad. As I read, I felt such sadness for Skye and Ben as they grieved a situation beyond their control; I also felt sad for their mothers, both profoundly affected by the circumstance – really, who wants to see their child hurting? Into My Arms pulled every which way at my emotions – I despaired as a couple deeply in love fell apart, I empathised as they tried to pick up the pieces and move on. Most of us know how that feels and how long it can take. It’s not the kind of novel where you should expect the typical happily-ever-after, but I was satisfied with the bittersweet conclusion. You know when you see people who are incredibly sad and need time to heal? That’s how I felt when I closed this book … like I needed to give Skye, Ben and their families space to heal. What will happen next? I don’t know; part of me wants to know and part of me thinks, ‘That’s their story, move along now’.
I haven’t read any of Ladd’s prior novels yet, but you can bet I will be now. She’s taken a topic that’s confronting morally and socially, but rather than take the high road, she’s steered readers towards a place of compassion. It’s a brave move for a writer to take on a topic like this, but Ladd shows that her courage – and heart – is in the right place. It could not have been an easy book to write and at times, it’s not easy to read … and it’s not going to be easy waiting for Ladd to write another book. Shocking and surprisingly touching, Into My Arms is a book I would highly recommend to people who like a bit of a challenge.
Available from good bookstores and Allen & Unwin. This copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.
Bookish treat: I’m too busy thinking about the book. Just give me something to eat. And make it chocolaty.