Chicklit Club
 

COLLEEN OAKLEY

 

Close Enough to Touch (2017)

 

Jubilee Jenkins has an unusual allergy; she has contact dermantitis to human dander. Essentially, she's allergic to touch. She had an anaphylactic reaction after her first kiss, and was traumatised and has locked herself indoors ever since. Shortly after, her mother remarries and moves away, leaving teenage Jubilee alone in the house. It seems that her mother never visits, and Jubilee never leaves, so it's the last time they see one another. However, Jubilee's step-dad is rich, and her mother sends her a cheque each month to cover expenses. Jubilee does a few online courses but not much else. Nine years later, aged 27, Jubilee receives a phone call from her step-dad, saying that her mother has died. He tells her that he won't support her anymore, and that she'll have to get a job. So, Jubilee gets a job at a library and meets Eric, a recently divorced man who has a troubled, adopted son who needs help and counselling but Eric seems to turn a blind eye to it. A romance between Jubilee and Eric blooms from there, and Jubilee wonders if she'll ever be able to overcome her allergies and have a normal human relationship.
I really expected to enjoy this book; the premise sounded so interesting! As a nurse, I wondered if it was possible for someone to have allergic reactions to human dander. Jubilee's complicated relationship with her mother was interesting as well. But, overall, this book was rather disappointing. I couldn't connect or empathise with the characters. I understand that all characters need flaws and weaknesses to make them more believable. But it seemed to me that neither Jubilee nor Eric had any real redeeming qualities. Rather than working from home (as many people do), Jubilee lives a parasitic existence for nearly all of her 20s, leeching off of her mum and step-dad. Eric's only positive quality were his good looks; otherwise, he made one idiotic decision after another, and was constantly yelling at his son. The characters were also inconsistent, Jubilee in particular. She cloistered herself indoors for nine years, fearing that she'd have another anaphylactic reaction. However, when she gets a job as librarian, she says that she'd probably just get a rash if she has human contact, but also obsesses about the time she kissed a boy and almost "died".
This was another sticking point for me; why didn't she just get some EpiPens and carry them around with her? People with severe allergies can still function in society; they're just more prepared. Jubilee's choice to not leave her house for years, and then to get a job in public and not bother to get new EpiPens stuck me as incredibly stupid. The author also tried to tie in some weird themes about X-Men and feminist writers like Sylvia Plath. These felt like they were just forced into the story. The narrative was also rife with melodrama, and I often found myself bored. However I persisted, wondering how Jubilee would overcome her allergy but the ending felt very anticlimatic. (CK) 5/10


 

Before I Go (2015)

 

At 27, masters student Daisy has survived one bout of breast cancer but she now discovers that it has returned with a vengeance - and she only has months to live. Her biggest concern is what will happen to her domestically challenged husband, Jack. With Jack busy trying to finish up his veterinary degree, Daisy - a lover of organisation and lists - finds herself searching for someone to take care of him after she's gone. But the search for his new wife isn't something she can easily tick off her list - not least because she and Jack are struggling to come to terms with the inevitability of her illness. Although you know this isn't going to end well, this wasn't as heart-wrenching as I expected - and I mean that in a good way. The story is still powerfully emotional and captivating but those who fear a heavy and depressing read can rest assured, this is neither. Oakley explores Daisy's cancer diagnosis, her resulting grief and anger, and her changing relationships with others with complete assurance. It will be one of this year's must-reads. 8/10

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