Review: Sunflowers in February by Phyllida Shrimpton
‘I wouldn’t say I’ve “lost” my life exactly, and I haven’t exactly “lost” my body but I have, for sure, somehow lost the connection between the two.’
When Lily Richardson spends her bus fare on a pair of earrings, she has no choice but to walk home. Unfortunately she takes a dark country lane as a shortcut, and her life prematurely ends due to the actions of a hit-and-run driver.
Lily doesn’t know this at first, though. She’s sitting on the grass verge, confused as to why she doesn’t feel cold, when the police pull up. That’s when she spots her own dead body lying in the ditch, and she realises something is terribly wrong.
After her body is recovered, her spirit is pulled between her loved ones: her mother, father and twin brother, Ben; her boyfriend of seven weeks, Nathan; her best friend, Beth; and Nathan’s mother?
That’s how Lily discovers that her boyfriend’s mother is the one that killed her, and she has to decide which course of action to take. Should she seek revenge, or should she forgive the person who ended her life?
Sunflowers in February is the British Books Challenge Debut of the Month for February, which is why I requested it on NetGalley. I hadn’t heard of it until then. I didn’t even bother reading the synopsis because I knew I was going to read it no matter what. That meant I was surprised as heck at the reveal that Lily was dead (but, because that’s the ENTIRE PLOT OF THE NOVEL, it’s pretty much impossible to not mention that fact in this review… and if I’d read the synopsis, that reveals it anyway).
The first 10% is some of the most emotive writing I’ve ever encountered, as Lily begins to understand the fact that she’ll never reach 16 because of a stupid pair of earrings. Her internal monologue is heart-wrenching as she strives to contact her loved ones and alleviate their grief in some way. Lily can see her mother blaming herself, her parent’s relationship falling apart, and is filled with rage at the actions of Nathan’s mother (who seems to think that tending a plant at the roadside where Lily’s body was found will ease her guilt).
However, after the first section the concept remains brilliant, but the execution becomes bland. Lily floats around aimlessly, trying to discover why she hasn’t moved on to some higher plane and bemoaning her lack of appreciation for life while she was still living. For the first quarter of the novel Lily can’t communicate with anyone, meaning the plot plods along at a painfully slow pace. I found myself close to abandoning the book halfway through (something which I never do).
Eventually, Lily communicates with Ben via his dreams. They finds themselves in an Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario as Lily slips inside Ben’s body, refusing to leave until she’s lived one final day. Again, an interesting concept, but it was boringly delivered. There were stretches where nothing at all happened, and – as I was pretty sure I’d figured out how the novel was going to end – I found myself skimming the story rather than finding myself absorbed by it.
If the identity of Lily’s killer had been concealed, it might have remained interesting. However, the truth about Nathan’s mum was revealed within a couple of pages, destroying any sense of mystery. This is due to the multiple perspective narrative, consistently jumping between Lily’s point of view and those of the people closest to her. If the story had been told by Lily alone, it would have been more effective.
That being said, I didn’t hate Sunflowers in February. Yes, I found myself getting bored, but for a debut author to be tackle a philosophical and controversial concept like life after death is brave. I enjoyed Phyllida Shrimpton’s writing style, but I think I would have liked it more if this had been marketed as literary fiction: it doesn’t feel like a YA novel.
If you’re interested in learning more about Sunflowers in February, check it out on Goodreads. If you decide to buy a copy, please consider using my Amazon affiliate link: I’ll earn a few pennies from your purchase. Thank you!