The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside is a feelgood début novel that has a lot going for it and will appeal to many readers. It demonstrates an amazing level of empathy for the homeless and fragile people who have suffered a lot in life. We follow the story of Dawn Brightside, who is accepted as a resident in a hostel and support service for the homeless, and of several other residents and staff members. All of them have survived very difficult times, even tragedy, and are struggling to lift themselves up. Many continue to struggle with issues including drug and alcohol abuse and mental health problems.
On top of that, the hostel is due for an inspection and under threat of being closed down permanently, leaving the residents with nowhere to live and no support.
Despite her own sadness, fear and pain, Dawn is full of hope, determined to see the best in people and to help others in need. We see how the various characters face challenges together and help each other as much as they can. The different characters are well drawn and their backstories bring them to life.
The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside contains a timely and necessary message that no matter how bad things get, there are always other people suffering more than you are. It abounds with empathy and shows that there is always hope.
In short, there is a lot that is good about this book and I can understand why it warrants 5 stars for many readers.
However, and I would appear to be in a minority here, I really, really didn’t like reading it. I did not see all the hope and empathy and mutual helping as ‘uplifting and positive’, but rather as a lot of sugarcoating. No amount of sweetness and light makes it easy to read about the desperate plight of the homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics and people with mental health problems. I give this a 4-star rating for the quality of the writing, but I found it a deeply uncomfortable read and I admit I skipped through large sections of it. So that’s more of a 2-star result. It wasn’t the glimpses of the pain and awfulness of being homeless/a junkie/an alcoholic, etc., that bothered me, but rather how much of it glossed over the nastiness to focus on the “niceness”. Turning this serious subject into a “warming”, “curl up with a good book”, “charming” feelgood novel is to trivialize it.
I sincerely applaud the author for striving to make readers see that the homeless are real, vivid, valuable human beings, not just a bundle of clothes to avoid and ignore. And no doubt there are Dawn-Brightside-equivalents among them, people with a huge heart and great courage. And without a doubt, support services for the weaker members of society are underfunded. But I’m a grumpy old woman and in my view, these socio-economic challenges need less heart and more anger. Less “support” and more rage and fighting for change.
My star rating:
2* because I didn’t really like it.
4* because it does what it set out to do pretty well.
My thanks to the publisher, the author and Netgalley for giving me a free copy of this book. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.