Miss You by Kate Eberlen is a novel I am finding it very difficult to review, for several reasons. The first is that I believe the novel is incorrectly branded, and this necessarily lowered my overall rating of the novel. Due largely to the blurb on the back of the book, as well as the quotes included on it from other authors (such as one from one of my favourite chick lit. writers, Sophie Kinsella), I had certain expectations when I purchased Eberlen’s story, and, to be perfectly honest, it met none of them. This isn’t exactly a bad thing, but I do feel that it is slightly dishonest to promote a story as a romance when in fact it features very few romantic elements. If Miss You were instead labelled a family drama or a coming-of-age story, I think readers of it would have a better sense of what is to come in their reading journey and experience, and this would’ve definitely improved my review, if only because I would’ve modified my expectations to the genre. In any case, there was one particular aspect of the story that touched me profoundly, and so I increased my overall rating as a result of that element – but more on that in a moment…
To go back to my first point, my main criticism of the novel… Why do I feel that Miss You is not a romance? Well, because it isn’t. I don’t think many readers would disagree with this assessment. It is compared to David Nicholls’ One Day, a novel that Eberlen actually mentions in her own, and yet, while One Day focuses almost entirely on the romance between its main characters, Dex and Emma, using their individual life experiences to further their romantic relationship in some places and simultaneously indicate to the reader why they are perfect for each other, Miss You focuses most of its attention on the individual lives and tragedies and struggles of Tess and Gus, but very rarely exposes why they would be romantically compatible. Although Tess and Gus are often in the same place at the same time and do indeed miss each other on multiple occasions, there is no reason to believe that they are meant to be together romantically. They didn’t even seem to have very similar interests, in my opinion – Gus is a doctor, with a passion for cooking and art, and Tess is a pseudo-English literature student and aspiring writer. Certainly, they both enjoy culture and adore London life, but their interests and hobbies are not exactly identical. This is not to say that people need to have the same talents and ambitions to be romantically involved, obviously, but in most cases, I found it very difficult to even recognize that they were missing each other because attention wasn’t always drawn to the fact that they were in the same place. If the novel is supposed to be about two people constantly missing each other, I think more emphasis should’ve been placed on those moments throughout the novel, rather than summarizing them neatly at the end, as Eberlen chooses to do. The one aspect of Tess and Gus’ lives that is similar is that they both deal with the loss of a close loved one, and I did get the sense that they could’ve greatly aided each other in the grieving process. Having said that, did I feel like Tess and Gus were soul mates? Definitely not, and although they did miss each other frequently, I never really felt frustrated by that fact because their lives seemed wholly separate and barely intertwined anyway.
Despite the fact that there was hardly anything romantic about Miss You, as I said before, there was one element of Tess’s life specifically that totally absorbed my attention. Much of Tess’s life centers on her mother’s battle with breast and ovarian cancer and the weight these diseases represent in Tess’s own life. At a certain point in the novel, Tess gets information about the BRCA 1 and 2 genetic mutations that drastically increase a woman’s risk of acquiring breast and ovarian cancer, and many chapters explore Tess’s fear and anxiety with regards to cancer and her chances of battling it within her lifetime.
This is a topic that is very close to my own heart and which caused me to have a highly emotional and visceral response to Tess’s story in Miss You. My maternal grandmother suffered from breast and ovarian cancer and passed away at the relatively young age of 57 because of her struggles with the disease. My mother and I have consequently been involved for many years in screening programs at one of the most reputable hospitals in Toronto, and a few years ago, my mother was approached to have genetic testing done to see if she carried one of the BRCA mutations. It turns out that she tested positive for the BRCA 1 mutation, which increased her risk of breast and ovarian cancer to astonishing and terrifying degrees. She opted, with the knowledge and understanding of her mother’s battle with cancer, to have a hysterectomy and a prophylactic mastectomy. Although she did not have breast or ovarian cancer, she chose to electively have the surgeries as preventative measures (in much the same way as Angelina Jolie did years ago, in case any of you are familiar with that story), and I am so proud and happy that she did because it was one of my greatest fears that I would have to watch my mother go through such a horrible battle with such an awful disease.
Now, I am in Tess’s position in that I myself have a 50% chance of carrying the BRCA 1 mutation. Since I am still very young when it comes to breast and ovarian cancer, I have decided to hold off on genetic testing because, at this time, I could not have any of the preventative surgeries and my screenings would not change at all. However, I know that one day I will have to be tested and, since I am a glass half empty sort of person, I have convinced myself that I am positive. What most touched me about Tess’s experience with the BRCA mutations, though, was the moment in the novel when she receives her own genetic testing results. Without giving too much away, Tess does think about being positive and tries to mentally prepare herself for that result, but she also discusses the fact that she doesn’t feel she could ever be fully prepared to hear that she is positive for a genetic mutation of this magnitude. That led me to believe that, although I tell myself every single day that I am positive, I will never feel the impetus to deal with that outcome until I hear it confirmed from a doctor’s mouth. That was an interesting personal revelation for me. Tess’s honesty and her forthright narration of her fears and uncertainties felt so similar to my own, that I became convinced that Eberlen must’ve faced genetic testing herself or is at least very close to someone who has. Eberlen’s treatment of cancer and its implications is touching and detailed, but also sensitive and respectful, and I don’t think I will ever forget reading Miss You because of it.
As I said, for all of the reasons I discuss above, it is very hard for me to rate Miss You. It didn’t deliver what I expected at all, and yet in some ways, it offered so much more. Although I wasn’t drawn into Tess and Gus’ romantic endeavors, I was touched by their individual family lives, and so I would recommend Miss You as a novel about family love, rather than love of the romantic variety. And, for any women who have encountered breast and/or ovarian cancer in their lives, I HIGHLY recommend it!
❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)
Girl with a Green Heart