Tom, single father to Hannah, is the manager of a tiny local theatre. On the same day each year, he and its colourful cast of part-time actors have staged a fantastical production just for his little girl, a moment of magic to make her childhood unforgettable.
But there is another reason behind these annual shows: the very first production followed Hannah’s diagnosis with a heart condition that both of them know will end her life early. And now, with Hannah a funny, tough girl of fifteen on the brink of adulthood, that time is coming.
With the theatre under threat of closure, Hannah and Tom have more than one fight on their hands to stop the stories ending. But maybe, just maybe, one final day of magic might just save them both.
I approached this book with a mix of excitement and trepidation, the latter because I had loved Keith’s debut novel A Boy Made of Blocks. Happily, I soon realised there was nothing to fear and once again I was in safe hands. Described as magical and moving I most definitely concur, and the magic starts right from the beginning.
Hannah was diagnosed at four, with a life limiting heart condition and Tom is determined to make sure that however long that life is, it will be filled with love and happy memories. From the birthday when he ‘magically’ ensured that fairies appeared at the end of the garden, to later ones when each year the theatre would stage a special birthday production – these were Hannah’s ‘Days of Wonder’. Of course as Hannah grows up, some of the magic starts to wear off and real life takes over, but Tom is determined to try to maintain the tradition. As Hannah’s 16th birthday approaches the Council threaten to close the theatre, this would mean not just the closure of a valued local amenity, but the end of an era for Tom and Hannah and all that the theatre has represented. For Tom the theatre has been a life line, his security blanket in life, when he’s had to deal with Hannah’s health scares. It’s also been a screen to hide behind, as he avoids moving on from his estranged wife and challenges of real life.
Without sounding trite, given the subject matter, this is a book full of heart and I defy anyone not to fall in love with Tom and his relationship with Hannah. But the book has a wonderful cast of characters beyond the main protagonists. From Hannah’s feisty and supportive group of friends to the wonderful and unconventional Margaret, whose theatrical anecdotes keep everyone entertained, even if in disbelief. In addition, there are the regulars in the theatre that help to provide Tom and Hannah with the ‘extended family’ they lack in real life.
The book develops by means of alternating chapters from Tom and Hannah, so you are drawn into experiencing each others perspective, often on the same subject. As well as being a book about fathers and daughters, it’s about growing up, coming of age and learning to move on – for both Hannah and Tom. Because of the way both stories are revealed, it opens up the readership market. Through Hannah it’s suited to young adults dealing with teenage emotions, education choices and young love. While Tom’s story focusing on his parental and work worries and dipping his toe back in the dating field will resonate with more adult readers. The overlap provides an engaging insight for both age groups.
While the core of the book is about families and friendship, it’s also a story about the theatre and magic that we could all do to occasionally weave into our lives, to keep the mundane and ordinary realities at bay. I have no hesitation in recommending it, it’s a beautiful, heartwarming read.