Book Reviews

Where You Belong: #TheKindnessProject by Sam Binnie @headlinepg @HeadlineFiction #bookreview

Title: The Kindness Project
Author: Sam Binnie
Publisher: Headline
Date of Publication: 4 March 2021
Genre: General Fiction (hug in a book!)
Format reviewed: e-proof
Number of pages: 336

THE KINDNESS PROJECT is the story of Alice, who, after learning unexpectedly that her estranged mother, Bea, has died, is forced to travel to Bea’s home in Cornwall to hear Bea’s will. But on arrival, Alice – grieving, angry and desperate to control her growing anxiety – learns that the always-generous, frustratingly bohemian Bea has left her a strange and special bequest: a collection of tasks to help out the village’s most in need.  

As Alice carries out Bea’s ‘Kindness Project’, she starts to understand why her mother left her, and the tiny fishing village of Polperran gradually creeps into her heart. But the secrets both women have been keeping might challenge the fragile happiness Alice finds . . .

I believe in kindness. This is the main reason why I said yes when I was offered the opportunity to read Sam Binnie’s novel. I will admit I barely read the blurb. I was in love with the idea of reading something warm, something that would remind me that people are good, that they can have someone’s best interests at heart or can do something without expecting anything in return.

Did The Kindness Project remind me of those things? Yes. But it also gave me food for thought and a new place to call a bookish home.

Alice Kimbrel suddenly receives the news of her mother’s passing. First very important point for me here: a mother-daughter relationship. I am very close to my own mother, but I find myself very curious about other people’s relationships with their parents. I remember reading those first pages with trepidation. Would it make me so sad I would have to take breaks between reading sessions? No. Not that there aren’t sad moments. But like sea waves, in this novel moments and feelings come and go with the tide, dancing to the rhythm of the author’s beautiful prose. So, I took Alice’s hand and we both ended up in Polperran, a small Cornish village.

Life is unbalancing, with high and low tides – we are given things we didn’t know we wanted, and we grow to want things we thought we didn’t need.

I try not to quote books too much, but Sam Binnie’s words resonated with me more than once, and I believe they are the best argument I have to show you how much you need to read this story of life.

Alice is nervous, she can’t wait to be done with this trip and run back to Cambridge, where her life awaits. We are not privy to much information about Alice’s life when we meet her, but it is clear that Polperran was not on her list of places to visit, even less after such a tragedy. Her head and heart are in turmoil and it taints her, and therefore our, view of the village as soon as we set foot there. A lone figure, a worn café, nothing very welcoming hit us at first sight. Alice is cold and wary of this place. But why?

The visit to the lawyer who holds Alice’s mother left me with more questions than answers! The warmth coming from the professional was blatantly in contrast with Alice’s take on the place, and made me feel we were both missing something…

Now, Bea Kimbrel. We met Alice’s mother through her daughter’s memories of her and the least I can say is that this relationship is at the heart of the problem, or should I say novel. Bea left letters to her daughter, containing specific missions to carry out in the village. Like Alice, I was puzzled. Wait a minute! This woman died, and left her child with a to-do list? If Alice was hurt, I was intrigued. You can never be sure of your reaction to such news in real life, but I felt both closer to Alice, stuck with her feelings and now one letter from her dead mother, and an urge to find out more. There is something very special in the author’s writing that reels you in, almost as if invisible strings pulled you closer and closer to the village, not in a pushy way, rather in an inviting and safe way. After all, this had been Bea’s home, and she loved it enough to ask Alice for her help.

All of us living so fast that we never understand how to get to where we need to be.

Bea’s tasks don’t involve climbing mountains or swimming for four hours in a stormy sea. It doesn’t mean the tasks are easy, especially for someone like Alice.

Here comes the moment I talk about my favorite element. Through Bea’s missions, we discover more about the mother, yes, but also about the daughter. Alice’s reluctance as staying in Polperran first grows stronger before the woman’s walls begin to shake, and cracks appear. The good thing with cracks is that they let light and people in. The similarities between Bea and Alice appear, along with their differences. Through her mother’s instructions, Alice slowly put her guard down and suddenly, the sun is warming the Cornish place. No, the road is not paved and lovely. The road is bumpy and Alice falls to her knees before she truly finds her feet. But don’t they say you have to crawl before you can walk? Bea’s letters are the crutches Alice needed to understand her mother better, understand herself better, and open the door to what life really is about.

Her life had been shaped always around managing, never, she began to think, about connecting.

The village is filled with endearing, stubborn, wonderful people. I would kill to try Joy’s cakes, I’d love to go shopping at the store, or hire Luke for some gardening! If Alice thought she would only be passing through, she never imagined she’d actually settle in her mother’s cottage and one by one, get to know and appreciate the hearts giving life to Polperran. There is no easy way to make yourself comfortable in a new place. I remember this from moving to Japan, and later to London. However, the people make it worth it, if you pay enough attention and spend the time needed to make connections.

How wonderful it was to get to know everyone. Behind a sad smile lies a burden, a flower garden hides loneliness, a beach is the shelter of a solitary soul. If you believe villages have nothing to offer, you know nothing! Polperran is alive and kicking, it is wrapped in lovely connections built with time and care. The rules may not appear clearly but if you try, you might just fit in one day, if you are brave enough to try.

So what really is the project? Well, at first, I thought it was all about finishing Bea’s work and making the people who mattered to her happy. As I turned the pages, though, it dawned on me that those letters were in fact about Alice. A final touch from the loving hand of a mother to her beloved daughter. My heart broke and was mended by Bea’s kindness and the care she took to ensure Alice would find her way into life. Real life. Why am I saying this? Alice has a lot on her mind, as well as on her heart. Being an academic has its advantages. You live for the work, it’s a full license to spend your days researching, staying on the outside, never mingling with the rest of the world. As I spent hours with Alice, I noticed a pattern, and reactions I am familiar with… If upon her arrival she believed Polperran was the end of something, she finds out that it is the perfect place for new beginnings.

I wish I could buy a ticket and visit Polperran, for it stole precious hours of my sleep I do not regret and offered me a wonderfully sweet and authentic reminder of what we should treasure in life. I am not ready to give up my city life, but I sure want to spread kindness and be open to what’s just in front of me.

The Kindness Project is an exquisite story of love and loss. It brings back the heart in the word community and makes you long to belong. I loved it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Preorder The Kindness Project here:

The Kindness Project has been shortlisted by the Samaritans for one of their book boxes to support mental wellbeing, and I could not approve of this decision more!

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