On the Bookshelf...

Things Can Only Get Better

David M Barnett

For elderly churchwarden Arthur Calderbank, there's no place like home. His home just so happens to be a graveyard. He keeps himself to himself, gets on with his job, and visits his wife everyday for a chat. When one day he finds someone else has been to see his wife - and has left flowers on her grave - he is determined to solve the mystery of who and why. He receives unlikely help from a group of teenage girls as he tries to solve the mystery, and soon learns that there is more to life than his little graveyard. Set during the 1990s, Things Can Only Get Better is an uplifting story about the power of a little kindness, friendship and community for readers who enjoy Sue Townsend Ruth Hogan and Joanna Cannon.

Wanting a book that will inspire you, make you angry, laugh and cry? Then this was written just for you. I want to be subjective about this book, but a story that cheered me up through recent black days is something that is very rare. David M Barnett is one of those rare authors that can breathe life into seemingly normal humdrum life and make us see the bigger picture. This book has a warm glow to it, makes life bearable and definitely should be available on the NHS.

So why is this book so good? Well, it’s set in the real world, warts and all. Nothing is good in the lives of the characters; they’re just wandering along with no hope. Arthur, the main character (mainly because he’s the glue that binds them together) is a retired old man living in a derelict chapel in the middle of a graveyard. His wife, Molly, lies in a grave just a few steps from the door. The other four main characters are Nicola, Timmy, Gemma, and Kelly, four year 10’s from the local council estate. Nothing much is expected of them in life, the school has given up on them. Their families are all dysfunctional, struggling to live and survive. It’s set in 1996 yet the struggles and challenges it could easily be today. The same issues exist which is why this book is so uplifting. Nothing seems to be changing, until Kelly has an idea.

This book deals with complex topics, homelessness, under achievement, racism, xenophobia, fears, mental illness, and loneliness. The teenagers would end up on the scrapheap if it weren’t for their actions. Alone they were floating away like flotsam on the river, together they make a raft that saves their lives. You learn to love these characters, willing them on to succeed, not wanting to accept what the school and life throws at them. Arthur is a gentle soul, a local ‘war hero’. His interaction with the ‘gang’ changes his life.

This book is full of references to pop culture in 1996, the groups, the music and even Buzz Lightyear. It’ll appeal to those who lived through it and to people struggling to live in the current climate. It shows the power of acting together to defeat dark forces, of not giving up and trying to maintain a smile on your face whilst doing it. The authors other books have the same effect on me, yet this one is the best so far. He sees the mundane, the common people and writes about them, yet not in a negative way. A book that’s like a warm hug to your soul.

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Review by
AJ Steel
June 15, 2023

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