A huge thank you to Ballantine Books for the Advanced Copy via Netgalley!
I read One Day in December almost two years ago and it immediately became one of my favorite romances ever. It gave me gut-swoops (that thing where a book is so cute and romantic that your stomach gets brief butterflies) and surprised me with it’s depth. Needless to say, I was very excited when I got approved to read Josie Silver’s second book, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird on NetGalley. This book wasn’t what I expected, but it turned out to be a poignant novel about life and death, and what it truly means to live and move on.
Lydia and Freddie. Freddie and Lydia. They’d been together for more than a decade and Lydia thought their love was indestructible. But she was wrong. On Lydia’s twenty-eighth birthday, Freddie died in a car accident.
So now it’s just Lydia, and all she wants is to hide indoors and sob until her eyes fall out. But Lydia knows that Freddie would want her to try to live fully, happily, even without him. So, enlisting the help of his best friend, Jonah, and her sister, Elle, she takes her first tentative steps into the world, open to life—and perhaps even love—again.
But then something inexplicable happens that gives her another chance at her old life with Freddie. A life where none of the tragic events of the past few months have happened.
Lydia is pulled again and again through the doorway to her past, living two lives, impossibly, at once. But there’s an emotional toll to returning to a world where Freddie, alive, still owns her heart. Because there’s someone in her new life, her real life, who wants her to stay.
The Two Lives of Lydia Bird has one of the most unique and quietly somber takes on time travel that I’ve ever read. The best part is the fact that it’s not even true time travel – Lydia is recovering from the untimely demise of her fiancé and is basically existing in nearly a fugue state. She begins to take sleeping pills, and she finds that when she falls asleep after using a pill, she dreams of a world where her fiancé did not pass away. This dream world is realistic and not centered around Lydia’s wish fulfillment or giving her an imaginary happily ever after – she experiences heartbreak and her relationship with her fiancé is far from perfect. The chapters were a mix of the waking world and Lydia’s dream world, and having these two different worlds juxtaposing each other was a fascinating way to drive Lydia’s growth and help her progress through the stages of grief.
I love a strong female character, and Lydia was exactly that. She had experienced immense loss, but was plowing through her grief nevertheless. Her motivations were complex, and she clearly cared deeply about the people around her. This was made clear by the fact that she woke up everyday and did her best to live her life for the sake of her family and her friends. Reading about how she handled the dreams and the temptation to continue taking the pills was the meat of this story – the story doesn’t focus on whether she’ll find love again or if there’s a way for her to magically live in the dream world – it’s about whether she will choose to move forward with her life. Her journey through the stages of grief were dark and at times heart-wrenching, but it all added up to a beautiful book and a very complex and dynamic character.
One of the ways Lydia must negotiate her life is presented through the two romances she finds herself a part of: one between Lydia and her dream fiancé (Freddie) and one very very slow burn relationship between Lydia and Jonah. Having the two relationships contrasting each other really created an interesting compare and contract scenario and forced Lydia to finally decide: should she continue to live in her comfortable delusions, or should she move forward and embrace her present.
One of the unsung hero characters of this book is Jonah – we slowly learn about his involvement in Freddie’s accident as Lydia comes out of her grief and starts facing her reality. Once the two start interacting, it becomes clear that Jonah is up to his neck in grief but is handling it completely differently than Lydia is. This presented an fascinating study in grief and an odd foundation for a relationship. That foundation was solid, and their chemistry was strong. My only compliant was that they should have had their big romantic moment earlier in the book so we could see how their mutual grief impacted their relationship and how they supported each other.
While it’s not quite as butterflies-in-your-stomach cute as Josie Silver’s debut, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird is still a great contemporary romance with an entertaining time traveling twist. It deals with loss gracefully, beautifully handles the concept of wish fulfillment and what it means to truly live. If not for the slow pacing in the middle, this would have been a perfect five star read for me. If you haven’t already, you should definitely go check out One Day in December for more of Josie Silver’s work. 4/5