Book Review: The Half of It

Juliette Fay has written seven books, and I’ve read all of them. I first met her shortly after her second novel came out, and after reviewing that one I went back and read her first book. Since then I’ve devoured everything she’s published, including her two historical novels, within months of publication. 

Her latest book is The Half of It. We first meet the main character, a 58 year old “accidental badass” named Helen, sitting in the woods with a granddaughter asleep in a backpack, contemplating her life. I’ve written before about Fay’s distinctive metaphors, which heighten awareness of character and setting without distracting from the story, and there’s a perfect example right on the very first page: “Her blank stare conjures only the wrong turns; regret is a thing with teeth.” 

This regret turns to something that’s not quite rage when her first love unexpectedly appears, hot on the heels of his missing grandson. He doesn’t recognize her, and though Helen is somewhat relieved (because she’s carefully buried the memories of a bad ending to their teenage romance), “She actually feels bad for him. In forty years, she’s had not one moment of pity for Cal fucking Crosby, so it’s kind of interesting. Also, how does the bastard not recognize her? Honestly, this is the most interesting thing that’s happened to her in months.” In one paragraph, we get it—all of her mixed-up feelings for the one who got away 40 years earlier.

Fay publishes frequently, but she doesn’t try to keep up with the annual treadmill of many upmarket fiction authors. Perhaps because of this, the topics of her stories are a little more varied—even when they stick to present day. What doesn’t vary is the quality of both editing and storylines, which are as smooth as… well, Juliette, help me out here, because silk would be far too predictable; what would you suggest instead? 

Like me, Fay was 45 when she published her first book—but she was also raising four kids. She wrote this book (her seventh) when she was the same age as Helen, and she’s just celebrated the milestone birthday that awaits me next year. In a lovely essay on Literary Hub, she first riffs on what turning 60 “feels like” before explaining what “older” really means, at least to the reviewers who included this book on a list entitled Books Featuring Charming Older Protagonists: 

“Most of the other books on this list feature protagonists in their seventies, eighties, and nineties. They’re all good books, I’m sure, and again, lists—yay! But does Helen really belong here? And if not, where does she belong? Because no one is making lists of female protagonists, charming or otherwise, in their fifties and sixties. No one seems to know what to do with us…except us. And with all the attention given to younger, more fresh-faced main characters and “charming” senior ones, even we get confused sometimes.”

None of us is too old to change, Fay reminds us, which is a common theme in her books. I recommend all of them for readers of any age who enjoy stepping into different lives, while being assured of a happy—not sappy—ending. Meanwhile, I can’t wait for her next story—and all of those unexpected but meaty metaphors. 

Got a book recommendation, or even a favorite Juliette Fay book? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or send me an email. Thanks!

2 Replies to “Book Review: The Half of It”

  1. Wow, that is a great review. I know you love her books but after that review even I want to read one of her seven books. And it sounds like you read one you read them all.

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