Back at the end of 2019, I read my first novel by Rania Battany, Fleeting Moments, in which I found one of my now favourite authors. In Fleeting Moments, I could see so much of myself and some of my relationships, in Maya (the main character), it was quite confronting, it also gave me so much to think about and work on in my own life. As her bio states, “She creates relatable characters and explores real issues while engaging her readers with stories that tug at the emotional core.” she has continually done that for me with every new book she has released. Her books are heartfelt and emotional, tackling important issues and themes that make me think and feel, as well as allowing me an insight into things people around me deal with every day.
In her newest novel With You in Wild Orchards Rania has once again wowed me with her ability to write a character I related to deeply while putting my emotions through quite a bit for the 5 or 6 hours it took me to read it.
Grief, it’s an emotion that most of us will experience in one form or another over the years, whether it’s from losing a loved one, losing a dream, the end of a relationship, leaving our homeland or home town and many other big and small things. Grief is a complicated emotion and no one person will have the same reaction or deal with it in the same manner, for some it might last a minute, and for others an eternity. The people we meet in With You in Wild Orchards; Luna, Jamie, Juliette, Annie, and Alan, each one has lost something, a dream, a friend, a loved one, and each one has dealt with it in a different way. Juliette’s grief caused her to make decisions that in turn affected the lives of those she loved, decisions that changed the course of other people’s lives and left secrets in their wake.
With her Aunt Juliette’s passing Luna is set on an emotional journey of grieving, remembering the past, searching for answers about her aunt, opening her heart and letting go, so she can realise a future she’d forgotten she wanted.
When Juliette dies, she leaves behind a minefield of secrets for Luna to discover and unpack, secrets which have affected many parts of both her and her mother’s lives and their relationship with each other. Juliette was the person Luna felt the closest to, she was constantly in awe of her aunt and the way she seemed to live such a full and adventurous life. But Juliette also continually left, off exploring the world leaving Luna in a cycle of loss and though she hasn’t really acknowledged it, essentially a feeling of being abandoned. Now Luna is forced to deal with those feelings she’s done such a good job of pushing down (I’m not ready to deal with my own feelings around that subject, but then, are we ever really ready?).
It is amazing how our hearts and minds work, how we perceive people and events one way only to look at them years down the track and realise that we only saw a part of the picture or only one aspect of a person, whether by choice because we didn’t want to see or because others didn’t want us to see.
Luna is a character who carries a lot of pain inside, deep inside, buried deep so she doesn’t have to look at it or deal with it, she’s done a good job of squashing painful thoughts and feelings inside, (something I know how to do well also), but by doing this she purposely hasn’t allowed herself the opportunity to love or be loved and has lost her spark and passion for life, even going so far as to forget what those passions once were.
The town of Edens Valley is as much a character as the people and plays an important role in Luna remembering the things she’d forgotten and the feelings being in that beautiful place gave her. Rania does a wonderful job of bringing the town and its surroundings to life and if I could I’d want to go and visit it myself, spend time under the willow tree by the river, sit on the hill overlooking the wild orchard, taste the food the locals put so much time and effort into producing.
It is in Edens Valley that Luna also meets Jamie, a man who is hurting, guarded and suspicious of what it is Luna is doing there. Jamie is also a caregiver and though he doesn’t want Luna around and doesn’t trust her one bit, he can’t help but do small things to take care of her needs while also pushing her to leave. Jamie, unlike Luna, hasn’t forgotten what his dreams and passions are and slowly, as Luna worms her way unintentionally into his heart, he starts to share what those dreams would look like. I could really feel Jamie’s internal struggle, of wanting to dislike Luna, his mistrust of her and his desire to not allow himself to be emotionally vulnerable to anyone whilst being pulled towards her every step. I really liked Jamie, I could feel his goodness along with his hurt, I understood his dreams of not conforming to his family’s expectations and following his own path, and I loved how he cared even when he didn’t want to; sometimes it’s the small things we do for others that can have the biggest impact.
At the same time, I could feel Luna’s confusion about the feelings and emotions Jamie elicits from her, feelings and emotions she’s never felt or allowed herself to feel before. I loved how once Luna makes a decision she jumps in with both feet, not allowing others to steer her off her path and I loved that by returning to Edens Valley in search of one answer, she finds so much more.
Through Luna, Rania has also managed to explore and cast a light on type 1 diabetes, a chronic disease I admit to not knowing much about. I had no idea just how dangerous it can be on so many levels to a person’s health if it isn’t managed correctly. I have a friend whose son has it and I’ve seen them constantly monitoring his levels, making sure he eats when he needs to and watching what he eats as best she can, but Luna’s mother, Annie, takes all these steps to the next level, maintaining a rigidity that Luna as a child and a teenager, found stifling and caused resentment for her growing up and I can understand Annie’s fear after reading about it. As an adult, we would have much more of an understanding of the dangers than a child and even then, many adults I know would struggle to make the right decisions for their health all the time. Young children are often the ones who it most commonly appears and depending on how it is managed and how their parents manage it with them, I can only imagine how it could feel terribly suffocating, limiting and a barrier to friendship and fun.
With You in Wild Orchards is a story about grief, love in its many guises, finding yourself and finding and following your dreams, about secrets and choices and their consequences. A story about living with an illness that affects your life and the choices you make, good and bad. A story that has made me wonder what I’m truly passionate about and whether there is a way for me to follow those passions once I figure them out. Rania has once again made me look at myself and the way I cope and manage my emotions and challenges (I guess I need to be reminded occasionally about this) and whether they are really working for me. It’s a story with real, slightly flawed characters who are trying to live their lives the best they know how while dealing with the ups and downs life throws their way, just like all of us.
Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this wonderful novel in return for an honest review. Thanks also to the author for once again giving me so much to think about and work on in my own life.
About the book
Twenty years ago, Luna’s aunt Juliette convinced Luna and her mother to write down their deepest secrets. She hid those secrets in a box. Then, in a pine forest far from from home, Juliette buried what they wrote.
Luna never planned to go in search of that box. Whatever secrets her mother and aunt wrote that day, Luna had wanted to remain buried.
But when Juliette dies unexpectedly, Luna discovers her aunt was hiding more than the secret she buried twenty years earlier. Searching for answers, Luna returns to the small town Juliette had once loved; to the trees guarding their secrets.
There’s one problem.
The pine forest is on private land. That land belongs to the sexy-but-guarded Jamie.
The more Luna chases Juliette’s ghost, the more uncertain Jamie becomes of her intentions, but the more time they spend together, the more their chemistry builds.
It’s complicated. And scary.
Especially since the last thing Luna expected to find was love … or herself.