Ii was given the opportunity to review Lisa Manterfield’s new novel, A Strange Companion, prior to its release. Before I get to the review, I want to say that I received a complimentary early review copy from the publisher for review purposes. No other compensation has been received or implied for this review, nor was I given guidance about review content. All the opinions expressed here are my own.

Having said all that, A Strange Companion comes out April 4th. Friends, you want this one.

OK, for those of you who prefer bite-sized reviews, here you go:

Lisa Manterfield has written a beautiful, evocative story of love and grief and the unknowable paths we each must walk to find our way back to life. A Strange Companion is like tubing down the Anduin through Lothlórien in June: quirky, delightful mysteries and surprises round every bend.

River Anduin and Lothlórien

Now, for those of you who prefer a little more substance with your meal, dinner is served:

Book cover for the novel "A Strange Companion"I’ve been fortunate to not experience firsthand the harrowing grief of the loss of a loved one, but Lisa Manterfield’s debut novel, A Strange Companion, took me inside the grieving heart of nineteen-year-old university student Kat Richardson as she navigates the sorrow of losing her first love. Ms. Manterfield tells Kat’s story from extreme close-up, letting her reader experience Kat’s shock, pain, denial, hope, defeat, and confusion through her heroine’s eyes and soul.

Written in an effortless, fluid style, A Strange Companion is a charming love story riddled with guilt and shame, as well as a quest for forgiveness, compassion, and redemption. Considering Kat’s struggle with love, loss, and saying goodbye to the ghosts of her past, A Strange Companion is remarkably down to earth and often delightfully quirky. There’s a lot to love about Kat Richardson, and I found myself rooting for her from page one.

So what is the gist of the story? Well, rather than retell Kat’s story (without spoilers!), it makes sense to let Ms. Manterfield do it:

Kat Richardson isn’t running away from grief; she’s just hiding out in a gloomy Welsh university town until she’s sure it’s gone. Now, one year, nine months, and 27 days after the climbing death of her first love, Gabe, she thinks she’s ready to venture out into the relationship world again. And Owen—a cake-baking, Super Ball-making chemistry student—appears to be a kind, funny, and very attractive option.

But the arrival of Kat’s newly adopted niece, Mai, forces her home to northern England, where she runs headfirst into all the memories of Gabe she’s tried to leave behind—and discovers that Mai stirs up an unnerving feeling of déjà vu. Before long, Kat’s logical, scientific beliefs about life after death are in battle with what she feels to be true—that reincarnation is real and Gabe has come back to her through Mai. The question now, is why?

In addition to Kat’s internal struggles with grief, the family relationships explored throughout A Strange Companion resonate with frank, psychological truth, contrasting the ebb and flow of familial tension and missed opportunities against the small victories of finding common ground. These connections, powerful reminders of our own shared experiences in our day-to-day lives, resonate no less authentically in Kat’s.

Lisa Manterfield is a terrific storyteller and writer, and A Strange Companion is a wonderful success. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

A Strange Companion can be ordered in digital format here: http://bit.ly/2nXgDxz. (Rumor has it a print version will be available soon, and readers who pre-order by April 3, 2017 using the link I provided will receive six of Kat Richardson’s recipes used in the book. Yum!)

Lisa ManterfieldMore information about Lisa Manterfield and her work can be found at her website: http://lisamanterfield.com.