With 16 published contemporary adult fiction novels to her name – not to mention several short stories and a young adult series too – it’s safe to say that Paige Toon knows exactly what she’s doing in this genre. Pick up a Paige Toon novel and you can expect a heartwarming story about love, family and relationships in all forms, with heart-wrenching developments and giddy, joyous moments in equal measure. Someone I Used to Know, Toon’s latest published novel, offers all of that and then some, delivering another smart, compassionate and poignant read that will strike a chord with long-time fans of the author and first-time readers alike.
This time around, the novel focuses on Leah as shocking news brings her back to Yorkshire and her home town with her daughter in tow. While Emilie’s father Theo isn’t with them, Leah’s return home does bring her face to face with her former foster brother George, bringing a lot of unresolved business to the surface.
It’s been half a lifetime since they last saw each other, back when Leah, George and Theo’s worlds first collided and the three of them formed a close bond that they thought would be unbreakable. But a lot can change over the years and life doesn’t always go to plan. With Leah and George both back home again, thoughts of the history they shared aren’t far behind them. But is half a lifetime enough time to heal the scars of their past? Or will coming back home again set their hearts in a different direction?
Once again, Toon has delivered a beautiful story that’s full of heart and warmth from start to finish as she explores family in all shapes and forms throughout this novel, from the broken and flawed ones to the families that you forge for yourselves. When Leah and George first meet, George is an angry, troubled young boy who’s struggling to come to terms with his new circumstances in foster care, while Theo’s relationship with his wealthy, disinterested father and arrogant and pompous older brother is fraught too in entirely different ways. The bond that develops between the three of them when they first meet feels like a natural progression and Toon captures the intensity of Leah’s connection with both boys extremely well, setting up a solid and believable history in a short space of time and using that groundwork to inform the present day storyline too, making good use of all the emotional beats that come with that past, shared experience.
“When George left all those years ago, it was as though he’d ripped a hole in my heart. Theo helped to fill it, but not completely. And now I’m wearing a Theo-shaped hole and I know it’ll kill me to lose any more of myself.”
One of Toon’s greatest strengths is in the characters that she creates, and Leah’s heartfelt empathy is clear on every page, making her a character you warm to instantly. It’s hard not to empathise with her in turn, with readers quickly getting swept up in her story and feeling all of the tumult of Leah’s emotions right alongside her. George, too, is a character who’s brought to life in great detail, and he benefits from getting the chance to strengthen his character in the ‘now’ timeline, adding nuance, depth and understanding to his teenage behaviour. Theo, meanwhile, is such a strong and vivid presence in the ‘then’ storyline that his absence in the ‘now’ storyline is strongly felt, and the mystery of his whereabouts is one that drives you throughout the novel, especially as George and Leah begin to reconnect and skirt around the topic of Theo in many of their conversations too.
In fact, Someone I Used to Know is a wonderful example of a dual narrative done right. Like most novels with two timelines, readers will inevitably have a favourite, but the brilliant thing about this book is that both narrative strands are strong enough that the favourite can change as the story continues. The ‘then’ storyline is as intense and honest as you’d expect of all stories about teens experiencing such big emotions for the first time, while the ‘now’ story is understandably more hesitant and subdued as Leah navigates George’s return, Theo’s absence and her own complex feelings. At different times, each of these narrative strands come in to their own, but together they create a gorgeous narrative that hooks you instantly and ebbs and flows so naturally that the time and the pages easily fall away as you lose yourself to the story.
Since publishing her debut novel Lucy in the Sky back in 2013, Toon’s books have become a highlight of summer reading lists everywhere and Someone I Used to Know is no different. As ever, the romance aspects of this novel are sweet and heartwarming, but it’s everything else that makes this one the memorable read that it is, delivering a novel that will simultaneously wrench at your emotions and leave you with a big smile on your face. Someone I Used to Know is full of warmth, love and second chances, making it a pitch-perfect summer read with a moving and uplifting story that’s sure to stay with you for a long time to come.
Someone I Used To Know is published by Simon & Schuster on 24 June 2021