5 Stars Reviews

Book Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

In the 1980s, two rookie cops move their blossoming families to the small town of Gillam, just north of New York City. Francis Gleeson and his wife, Lena, try to welcome their new neighbours, Brian and Anne Stanhope, but they receive a frosty reception from Anne. As their families grow side by side, inevitably intertwining, their quiet suburban lives hurtle towards an act that will change all of them forever. Spanning four decades, Ask Again Yes examines relationships of all kinds; marriage, friendship, parent-child relationships. It considers how each of those relationships are tested and how powerful forgiveness can be.

Look at the happy ending that could come out of a terrible thing.
Theirs was a story for the ages, star-crossed,
but without the tragic ending, without the fatalities.

I had no idea what to expect with this book but in the end, it blew me away. The story is captivating and pulled me in quickly; it was difficult to put the book down at points. It spans decades so the pacing needed to be pretty steady, which it was. Keane didn’t spend too long in any given time period but it didn’t feel like there were any huge unexplained gaps in time. The narrative flits about between characters – they’re not first-person POV chapters but they just follow different players in the story. Often major events were glossed over on page, with Keane more focused on the aftermath of those events rather than the events themselves. If I’d known that in advance it may have put me off but it actually works really well, as characters will later relay the details of an event from a retrospective standpoint. The act which serves as the catalyst for the narrative made me literally gasp out loud – I had to put the book down and walk away for a minute as I was so shocked.

The book is definitely character-driven, not plot-driven, but that’s not to say that nothing happens; it’s just that the character’s responses to these events are more important. As a result of that, you really get to know the characters and their hidden emotions, particularly Kate and Peter, the children of Lena and Francis and Brian and Anne, respectively. I expected to get to know Kate’s older sisters a little more just because they appeared before Kate in the novel but that’s just my misjudgement, they end up being very much secondary characters. All of the major characters were fully-rounded, flaws and all, which I absolutely loved and allowed me to become completely absorbed by the story. I thought Anne’s character arc in particular was dealt with so well, and the balance Keane struck between resentment and forgiveness was handled brilliantly and realistically. There were so many different themes in this novel and each one was handled with care and honesty.

I would highly recommend Ask Again, Yes if you enjoy domestic dramas; it’s heart-stopping and beautiful, and I’m eager to read more of Mary Beth Keane’s writing.

Rating: 5 / 5 stars

*I received a free e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

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