Set in an idyllic Connecticut town over the course of a year, A LITTLE HOPE follows the intertwining lives of a dozen neighbours as they confront everyday desires and fears: an illness, a road not taken, a broken heart, a betrayal.
Freddie and Greg Tyler seem to have it all: a comfortable home at the edge of the woods, a beautiful young daughter, a bond that feels unbreakable. But when Greg is diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, the sense of certainty they once knew evaporates overnight. Meanwhile, Darcy Crowley is still coming to terms with the loss of her husband as she worries over her struggling adult son, Luke. Elsewhere, Ginger Lord returns home longing for a lost relationship; Ahmed Ghannam wonders if he’ll ever find true love; and Greg’s boss, Alex Lionel, grapples with a secret of his own.
Ethan Joella’s novel feels perfect for this moment in life. Since 2020 our world has changed irreparably, for some this means that every day life has changed so they no longer work in an office full of other people, or they’ve missed going out over the past two years, or had their exams cancelled. For others it means learning to live with loss, coping mentally with the work they did on the NHS frontline or dealing with the challenges of long COVID. For me it has meant still being super careful when I go out, avoiding large and crowded gatherings and my mobility being reduced because of treatment that’s been postponed indefinitely. Thanks to long periods of isolation, we are all used to living in our own world and can even be overwhelmed by what we’re facing inside our own front doors. To some degree, the plight of the Ukrainian people has brought us out of our own concerns and back into a collective again. We want to help and take action. It has given us perspective. This novel works in the same way. It feels inspired by the realisation we are only a small part of the jigsaw that makes up life. It’s the literary equivalent of that feeling I always get on the train in the dark, when I can see the human theatre of everyday life through the glowing windows of people who don’t shut their curtains. Every passing window is a snapshot of life. Ethan Joelle gives us a different life per chapter, as we meet the residents of the small US town of Wharton, Connecticut. Each chapter is separate, but related, and through the author’s lens we are granted access to the extraordinary lives captured within each unremarkable window.
We start with Freddie, who is coping with the fact that husband Greg has just been diagnosed with a cancer of the white blood cells called multiple myeloma. Not only that, they haven’t yet told their young daughter Addie. Freddie is just trying to process the news, but is worrying about what Greg’s diagnosis will do to their daughter at the same time. The author then takes us into Greg’s world, into his working life, where he has concerns that haven’t even crossed Freddie’s mind yet. His worries are caught up with what kind of man he is if he can’t work and provide for his family. His boss is trying to support him, but there’s a wall of denial and false optimism to get through, and what if that wall is the only structure holding him up? We weave through the lives of other Wharton residents, such as Iris, Darcy, Ginger, Luke and Ahmed. Each life is so preciously unique, their take on their world so different and beautifully human.
We are all familiar with the hashtag #BeKind and memes that remind us we never know what others are going through. Through these stories this really is brought home to the reader, as our characters touch on each other’s lives, sometimes without knowing what they’re coping with just under the surface. Yet, while taking us through every experience from infidelity to loss, the book never feels overwhelming or melancholy. Yes I wanted to shed tears from time to time, but somehow there is always a ray of hope. It reminded me that things like community, friendship, shared experiences and compassion can change everything. The author doesn’t hold back on how difficult and painful life can be, but yet always finds some element of joy that reminds us what a gift it is too. This book is poetic, achingly beautiful and full of empathy for the human condition.
Meet The Author
Ethan Joella teaches English and Psychology at the University of Delaware and specialises in community writing workshops. His work has appeared in River Teeth, The International Fiction review, The MacGuffin, Delaware Beach Life and Third Wednesday. He lives in Delaware with his wife and two daughters and is of Irish heritage.