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How to Find Your Way Home

by Katy Regan

How to Find Your Way Home by Katy Regan X
How to Find Your Way Home by Katy Regan
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JHSiess

Reconciliation, Forgiveness & New Beginnings Are Possible
How to Find Your Way Home, author Katy Regan's sixth novel, is a beautifully crafted and deeply moving examination of a family torn apart by betrayals, lies, and alliances, and the impact they have upon the individual members' lives.

In a third-person narrative, Regan details events beginning in 1987 when newborn Emily Adele Nelson was introduced to her older brother, Stephen. Those chapters alternate with a first-person account from Emily, commencing in March 2018, as well as another third-person narrative focused on Stephen that correlates with what Emily is experiencing. The siblings grew up exploring the English marshes and the birds that inhabited them. Stephen was a typical energetic boy, but also sensitive and thoughtful. And totally enamored with all kinds of birds. Tagging after and wanting to emulate him, Emily shared his devotion and, with their father, birdwatching and studying about birds were integral to their lives.

But Regan establishes at the outset that Emily, living in London, is preparing to celebrate her thirty-first birthday, a day that will bring her "another year further from the day in '99 Stephen was taken from me." She searches the internet in vain for him or a mention of him, a clue to his whereabouts. She is in the latest in a long string of short-lived relationships and, by all outward appearances, seems to be a happy woman with friends and a stable career. But she reveals that she "can't do life, you see, everything feels wrong; I can't make plans or commit to anything, I can't love or be loved. Not while there's this piece of me missing, this giant hole in my heart."

Stephen has spent the past fifteen years living on and off the streets, his latest homeless stint having spanned six weeks. Now thirty-five years old, he has served time in prison and battled substance abuse, but is currently sober. He has learned how to navigate an unwelcoming world and survive harsh conditions, always taking solace from the birds he still loves. He sells a few sketches of them to earn money. Two things have kept him alive: hope and his beloved birds. "I had my birds. They've saved me," Stephen says. He has been estranged from their mother for a long time, and her life took an unhappy turn at some point. She has been caring for their profoundly disabled stepfather, Mitch, for years, even though Emily has consistently urged her to place Mitch in a care facility. Emily dares not mention Stephen to their mother, although Regan does not initially reveal what caused the rift between them. Their father has remarried and is preoccupied with his stepchildren, his relationships with both Emily and Stephen strained.

Stephen arrives in Emily's head each morning before she leaves for work, her thoughts "laced with anxiety: Where was he today? How was he? What was he doing right now? Occasionally I'd just be treated to a memory, a lovely one," often associated with excursions to the marshes to see their cherished birds. Emily works as a housing officer at a social services agency tasked with placing suitable applicants in public housing accommodations. Of course, there is a housing shortage -- 1.15 million names are on the waiting list -- and stringent requirements that too many applicants cannot meet. She notes that "life begins with a roof over your hear, doesn't it? Without that, nothing can take off." Ironically, she has a lovely apartment filled with things she loves, yet "it doesn't feel like I live here. Sometimes, when I open the front door, I feel like a visitor." Every day, she hopes that Stephen, her homeless brother, will be among the countless people who come to the agency seeking assistance.

And then one day, she becomes aware of a familiar voice. It jolts her back to a day when she was about ten years old and Stephen was fourteen or fifteen. In her memory, Mitch is "bellowing" at Stephen as Emily tries to show their mother a shoe box inside of which is a tiny injured bird. Stephen is trying to explain that he wanted to save the bird, repeating, "You don't understand . . ." exactly as he is currently expressing his frustration at not being eligible for housing to Emily's colleague in the next room. Emily realizes that she is not dreaming. She is really hearing her brother's voice for the first time in years. But he leaves the agency before Emily can get to him. At least she knows he is alive and begins searching the area for him.

Regan instantly draws readers into the psyches of Emily, Stephen, and their parents, establishing their fraught relationships with each other and current circumstances. Cleverly, she does not reveal at the outset what caused the family to fracture or how a sweet young boy like Stephen has become a homeless thirty-five-year-old man with a criminal record.

Regan illustrates with tenderness and compassion that finding Stephen is just the beginning of a new journey for the family. When Emily locates him, he initially denies that he has a sister. However, after thinking about it, he reaches out to her and accepts her invitation to stay with him. She is determined to help Stephen get his life back on track, and he is delighted to be reunited with her, but interacting with her and her friends proves challenging for a man who hasn't enjoyed "normal" social interactions for nearly two decades. And he wants Emily to inform their mother that he is staying with her because he wants to be reunited his Mum, as well. Stephen has missed their mother -- perhaps most of all -- but Emily admits that while Stephen stays with her, "Every day I resolved to tell Mum that Stephen was here, and every day I failed." That failure initiates a series of events that cause all four family members to reevaluate their choices and feelings.

Regan makes expert use of the alternating chapters, gradually disclosing the betrayal that set in motion the disintegration of their family. Stephen and Emily were youngsters unequipped to deal with their parents' issues. Worse, Mitch was very different from their father -- a decorated veteran who bullied Stephen, mocking his love of birds, verbally abusing him about his refusal to consume meat, and complaining that he brought "revolting half-dead creatures into the house." Mitch threatened to kill the birds Stephen valiantly sought to save, and little Emily witnessed their horrifying interactions while their mother wrung her hands helplessly. Mitch was never smart enough to understand what Stephen knew from a very early age. That "birdwatching was all about being still and it was where life was for him, where the thrills were, if you were patient enough to wait for them."

Emily and Stephen work to mend their relationship so that they can move forward, but they must first reconcile the past. Their recollections about a traumatic event and its repercussions are different, but getting to the truth is essential to their ability to forge a new, lasting alliance. Regan skillfully depicts their exchanges through believable inner struggles and resonant dialogue. They embark on the adventure they promised themselves as children they would one day enjoy together -- experiencing the events on the Top Five list Stephen compiled so many years ago that includes spotting two rare birds in twenty-four hours and watching the swifts' migration from the Spurn Peninsula. They argue about how to navigate to the various locations, vehicle maintenance, and other matters in ways that readers with siblings will find completely relatable. And in the process they work through what tore them apart.

But can they reconcile the past? And when the full truth is at last revealed, will their bond remain unbreakable? Will the revelation of the truth facilitate understanding and forgiveness by their mother? Will Stephen at last find a permanent home where he can be content? Can Emily finally feel whole and at ease in her own life?

Regan answers each of those questions in a dramatic, but emotionally satisfying manner. In the process, she examines the ways that childhood trauma impacts her characters and shapes the course of their lives. She also explores how mistaken beliefs, faulty memory, a mother's failure to protect her children, and an older sibling's determination to shield his sister from pain cause fissures in a once close-knit family. Ultimately, Regan demonstrates that forgiveness is possible and can facilitate the restoration of familial bonds if the family members are willing to acknowledge their own role in the disintegration of their relationships and accept each others' truths. Indeed, sometimes those truths were apparent all along, but never voiced or validated.

How to Find Your Way Home is a must-read selection for readers who enjoy stories about families and, more particularly, siblings who overcome turmoil in their relationships and deal with its impact upon their lives. Regan's compelling characters and insightful story are both memorable, impactful, and uplifting. And affirm it is possible to feel as if everything you've ever lost is coming back to you -- all of it coming home.

Thanks to NetGalley for an Advance Reader's Copy of the book.
DeAnn A. (Denver, CO)

Where is Home?
Featuring a homeless man who finds his way home, this story really resonated with me. This book shows the power of love and family and explores just what home means to people. I enjoyed the dual timeline (past/current) in this one and the ending was really powerful. This book made me think about a few things, would I take in someone who had been homeless? Does everyone deserve a second chance? I would recommend this to anyone who likes family stories. I think this one would be a great book club discussion book as everyone has an opinion on the homeless, maybe even knows someone who is homeless.
Lizmarie

How to Find Your Way Home
Emily is working toward having it all: her dream house, a lovely garden, a satisfying career and a budding romance. But something, or rather someone, is missing. She is not at home in her own house. She has spent the last ten years searching obsessively for her big brother, her childhood hero and protector. She knows that Stephen is homeless, just another invisible man struggling to survive on the streets.

Stephen is cold, wet, hungry, physically and emotionally exhausted. Since his release from prison, he is alone, having lost even his homeless friends due to their reliance on drugs and alcohol to cope with their pain and alienation. His only escape from misery is his love of birdwatching, a hobby he shared with Emily when they were inseparable children.

A chance encounter reunites the siblings, but their way home to each other is not assured. They are plagued by small annoyances like tobacco in Emily's pristine house and serious resentments, family secrets, deceit, denial and overwhelming guilt.

Book clubs will find many themes to discuss including family relationships, estrangement, the ripple effects of choices, bullying, social issues like homelessness and substance abuse.
Pamela W. (Piney Flats, TN)

Emotionally Tough Read but Worth It
How many more books can I read about a dysfunctional family? At least one more. "How to Find Your Way Home" was worth my time and emotional investment. The characters are developed enough to recognize in real life. The structure isn't a simplistic linear narrative. The resolution isn't a foregone conclusion. I will recommend this read to my friends.
Catherine O. (Altavista, VA)

Real
Intertwining birdwatching with the story of siblings Stephen and Emily made How to Find Your Way Home so authentic. The love these siblings had for birds and the escape that birdwatching provided from their unhappy childhood home was so strong it allowed them to find a way back to each other after decades apart. The author creates characters so real that reading the novel is like stepping into their lives. I know that anyone who enjoys a novel with characters who evolve will devour this book. I will be recommending it to my book club. It also made me want to go birdwatching!
Jessamyn R. (Fayetteville, NC)

A Brother-Sister Story with Great Setting
I enjoyed this book tremendously for its empathetic portrayal of homelessness and those within a broken system, and for the somewhat less typical portrayal of a brother/sister relationship (a nice change from the usual sisters, female friends, mother/daughter or romantic pairings). Steve's protectiveness of his sister seemed a bit over the top in some cases, but I liked both him and Emily enough for it to work. The "twist" at the end was a surprise to me - though I thought E's repression of it could have used a bit more fleshing out - and I liked that their relationship with their mother was left open ended instead of tied up with a bow. The descriptions of the birds and marshes were a treat - one of my favorite parts of the book. I now want to go see the swifts and citrus finch for myself!
Mary L. (Greeley, CO)

Hope--a thing with feathers
Emily Dickinson's poem haunted me as I read this British novel as it reveals painful mistakes haunting a family split apart by frailty, bullying, tragedy, and a huge lie. Something lurks just beyond the reader's reach until near the end. An adult brother and sister, separated for many years, tentatively come back together to face truths which truly set them, at last, free like the birds the brother has always loved.
Dan W. (Fort Myers, FL)

Hidden Secret
This book, which the author, Katy Regan, describes as a epic journey between a brother and sister is captive reading. Even if the reader is not an acclaimed ornithologist or even a casual birdwatcher, the family dynamics that exist within the nuclear family is justification for diving into this book. Truly the relationship between the brother and sister is gripping! The author generates an ongoing an ebb and flow in emotions to the characters in this novel. A surprised ending makes this book an engaging read. Ideal selection for a book club!

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