As I predicted, William’s and Donna’s parents have not been up for the job.
Catherine has become a drunkard, and she is more often than not drunk and neglecting their two daughters. Vivienne and George give William the kind of life he doesn’t really care for, and they have no interest in listening to their son’s opinion.
The book shows different moments in time as William and Donna grow up. On every single occasion they almost get to meet, but for some reason that encounter doesn’t take place.
In 1995 when it is their tenth birthday, they experience their parents’ shortcomings in different ways. Donna is excited about her birthday, but then she is disappointed to find her mother sleeping and drunk. So far her mother has always tried to make her birthdays special, but her drinking habits are clearly getting worse. Donna decide to spend the day with her best friend Lexie. Lexie comes from a dysfunctional family as well. Her parents are hippies and left their daughter with her grandparents while they joined a hippie commune in Spain. Lexie suggests they can bake a birthday cake with her grandmother, which is something that Donna loves. Her other suggestion is not so legit. They pilfer some sweets from a shop to decorate the cake, and then when she sees a boy with her grandmother carrying some balloons, she and Donna steal some of their balloons. The boy is William, and his birthday party is not what he wants. Vivienne has hired a catering and invited 40 children, most of whom William doesn’t know, and his best friend Jack is not there as Vivienne does not think he is a good influence on her son when she heard that the boy he had cursed in class.
In 1998 Tina, Donna’s sister, who has become the adult in their family as their mother is clearly absent, gives her a lecture to Donna. Tina has realised that her sister is up to no good. In her bedroom she has found several wallets and whenever she goes out with her friends, Donna comes back with a new top. Donna confesses that she and Lexie have stole a few wallets and some clothes because they wanted to belong to a gang of girls, and this is what they wanted them to do. THen the girls took the money from the wallets, and only gave Lexie and Donna a tenner. After their talk, Donna promises she won’t do the same again. Yet, Tina wants to give her sister a lesson about what it means to earn money. So she takes Donna to the place where she works as a cleaner. It is in Vivienne’s house and Donna comes to see how hard her sister works, but this time she doesn’t get to see William either, because by the time he is home, Donna has already gone.
The action moves to 2004. Donna has left school and she works in a bakery, making cakes which is what she loves most in the world. Her boss thinks she is a terrific baker and has a brilliant future ahead. It is in the bakery she and William also miss each other. He comes to have breakfast, but when one of the assistants, Talia, tries to chat him up, he decides to leave and avoid the place from now on. We know that William is studying law at Trinity College, which fills him with pride even though we know that this is not his all-time ambition.
Then we are in 2008 Jack, who is now a lawyer, is working for his mother, which is something he hates. He wants to travel and see the world – being an explorer is what he wanted to do when he was a child. Yet, he feels crowded with his mother breathing down his neck all the time, and then having to put up with her at home as well. He talks to his friend Jack, who advises to change what he doesn’t like in his life. I find William quite indecisive, and I imagine that his mother’s influence is something he can’t shed so easily. After being told what to do all his life, we can understand that he is afraid to turn against his mother.
Something terrible happens that I think will push him to do what is right. Jack commits suicide a few days after William and he met, and the former explained his problems to him. During their conversation Jack only told him that his girlfriend Tessa wanted to move their relationship to another level, meaning a mortgage, marriage, children. William noticed then that Jack was anxious and wasn’t telling him everything. Then the news came that Jack had been found hanged from the ceiling of his apartment. William later learns that Jack had been suffering from depression for years, but his parents had hidden the disease for appearances’ sake. Not even his girlfriend knew about it, and now feeling anxious about what Tessa wanted, he simply couldn’t go on anymore. How terrible!!!