Wednesday 17 January 2018

Book Review: Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner

Last Updated: 12 July 2021

Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner book cover

AD* | How do you move on from an irreplaceable loss? In a poignant debut, a sixteen-year-old boy must learn to swim against an undercurrent of grief - or be swept away by it.

Otis and Meg were inseparable until her family abruptly moved away after the terrible accident that left Otis’s little brother dead and both of their families changed forever. Since then, it’s been three years of radio silence, during which time Otis has become the unlikely protégé of eighteen-year-old Dara - part drill sergeant, part friend - who’s hell-bent on transforming Otis into the Olympic swimmer she can no longer be.

But when Otis learns that Meg is coming back to town, he must face some difficult truths about the girl he’s never forgotten and the brother he’s never stopped grieving. As it becomes achingly clear that he and Meg are not the same people they were, Otis must decide what to hold on to and what to leave behind. Quietly affecting, this compulsively readable debut novel captures all the confusion, heartbreak, and fragile hope of three teens struggling to accept profound absences in their lives.

Gripping, exhilarating and full of twists and turns, Phantom Limbs is undeniably a stand-out debut.

Told from the perspective of Otis, a teenage boy stuck in the past and torn apart by his feelings for the people he loves, the book presents a melancholy view of a life riddled with guilt, hurt and uncontrollable teenage hormones. At times sad and sweet and at others hopeful, the overarching thread linking the narrative together is one of grief and learning to come to terms with extreme loss.

Youthful innocence and naivety are perfectly juxtaposed with sadness and teens who are old before their time, creating a gloriously rich cast of characters as complex as the lives they lead. The story just goes to show how one event can end up having such a large, long-lasting impact on multiple lives - grief is something that never goes away, it is only bottled up and hidden out of sight.

Garner is also a master when it comes to tactfully navigating tricky situations. Her characters are rich and multi-faceted, showing different sides to their personalities as they come to terms with the past, present and future throughout the story. Both physical disability and mental health are present in the story and are not shied away from - the characters react in realistic, apt ways which really does add an extra element of believability to the novel.

From a personal point of view, although I raced through this book, I know this story is one that will stick with me for many years to come. I read it towards the tail end of last year, but even if I had read it earlier, I know it would have had the same impact on me. In fact, I enjoyed Phantom Limbs so much that I actually ended up honouring it as one of my top five books of 2017 - for a book blogger, high praise indeed!

I find myself saying it a lot, but when you find a good book, you will end up reliving the story long after you've read the last word on the last page and closed the book. Good stories stick in your mind, yet the best stories stick in your heart.

Rating: 5 stars

Phantom Limbs is available to buy now. 

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* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Will you be reading the book? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!

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