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Hope Nicely's Lessons for Life: 'An absolute joy' - Sarah Haywood

Hope Nicely's Lessons for Life: 'An absolute joy' - Sarah Haywood by Caroline Day

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By Caroline Day

avg rating

10 reviews

She joins an evening writing group, and whilst the lessons are about prose, she starts to learn about the world around her and even about herself.

When Hope’s mum suddenly falls ill, she realises there are many more challenges to come .


08 Apr 2021

Reading Group review

Dorset Libraries Reading Group

Carol's review:

Hope Nicely is living with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder, and was abandoned as a baby. She has joined a Creative Writing Group and is determined to dragoon her "jumble sale brain" into making sense of her life and to write her autobiography, in the hope that her birth mother may see it and explain. We are inside Hope's brain from the start, as she struggles to make sense of the world around her. On the way, we come to understand how her adoptive mother, Jenny, has taught Hope the skills to deal with the many challenges she faces, while always making her feel loved and worthwhile. Under stress, she repeats her rules like a mantra, but we suffer with her when she is overwhelmed and can only run and hide. She meets with both kindness and prejudice, and her dogged attempts to behave appropriately win friends and support. Jenny has a heart attack, and may well not recover - though Hope simply refuses to believe something so unthinkable. Through it all, she struggles on, and in the end has found out more about her own past, made new friends, and gained in self-confidence. We see everything that happens through her eyes, and I did feel I had gained more understanding of people with learning difficulties, without being fed lots of facts. This is a delight - funny, sad, and eventually life-affirming.

Jane's review:

From the start you get a grasp of Hope’s jumbled brain, how she tries to make sense of things but her brain just doesn’t seem to work right. Adopted as a young baby, her adoptive mum Jenny supports Hope and helps her grow, but underlying this is Hopes quest to find out why her mother gave her away. Hope wins a scholarship to join a writing course to help her write her autobiography and thus put on paper her feelings, questions and more. She struggles to conform, but she has her rules for getting through things, sitting on her hands and counting to 3 is one of them. Hope is faced with prejudice from some, but is supported and befriended by so many more. When Jenny has a heart attack, you feel the angst of how Hope can cope with this, and how she can process what has happened. The book helps you to understand people who as they say ‘are on the Rainbow and unique’, and you just feel for Hope and how through no fault of her own she has to face daily challenges and prejudice. Really enjoyed this, and so glad to be able to read it early.

Jean's review:

What a wonderful rainbow of a read. You very soon warm to Hope Nicely and become lost in her character. Hope Nicely has FASD and is adopted. She joins a writing group to write an autobiography in order that she might find her birth mother, but life has a very different agenda in store for her. You, like me, might have a very limited knowledge of those living neuro-diverse lives but don’t be put off by by the length of the book. A fast read of four hundred and thirty six pages of an emotional rollercoaster journey in which you will get an insight into what living with FASD might look like. This novel will have you laughing, crying, angry at people’s ignorance, and falling in love with some wonderful diverse people. You might perhaps notice some things in Hope that if you’re honest are there in yourself too. I love the way she talks about trying to remember something and it being like opening the curtains on a foggy view. Or how she worries that people will think she is stupid, a no brain. So sometimes she comes out with absurd hilarious answers rather than be thought of as empty headed. Jenny’s adopted Mother has tried to help Hope with some Golden rules to try to live by. These are quoted through out the novel and listed in the final chapter. What a difference those golden rules would make to our world if only we could try to live by them. Hope has some wonderful turn of phrases and some plays on words that are so delicious and will stay with you long after you finish the novel. They will have you laughing and perhaps seeing life from a different perspective. I don’t think after reading this book I will be saying, ‘I must stop thinking about that’. I will definitely be ‘flipping a pancake’! This is a book to escape into and yet to emerge from feeling you have learnt just a little more about life and how we could all be better people if only we could ‘prepare to smile brightly.’
Definitely a five star heart warming read and a book you won’t be able to put down till you have read it from cover to cover and even then it’s feel good factor will go on warming your soul.

08 Apr 2021


Allington Reading Group reviews

Marion Porter's review:

Within a few pages I found myself warming towards the disarming central character. Hope Nicely has Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, something she has struggled to cope with all her life. She has a splendid, loving and supportive adoptive mother who has tried to give her strategies and mechanisms to deal with the frequently confusing or intolerant world outside her home. Now an adult, Hope is desperate to discover her birth mother and to understand why she was born the way she was. She joins a creative writing group and experiences a range of responses to her condition, but also finds new friends who come to appreciate her struggles and who support her when her life takes a devastating and potentially tragic turn. The writer does not shy away from the effect Hope's behaviour has on people who fail (or refuse) to understand her, but the book also encourages the reader not to take a judgemental attitude to mental health issues. Hope is an engaging character who refuses to be defined by her condition and wants only to be accepted for herself. A truly heart-warming story.

Marie Shandley's review:

Jenny Nicely adopted Hope as a young teenager. She was born with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a condition due to her mother drinking alcohol whilst pregnant. Her adoptive mother, Jenny, introduced her to many rules to follow. She called these Lessons for Life. They did much role playing which helped Hope to remember what she was being taught. Jenny steered her towards as normal a life as was possible in this way. It was an inspiration to have her in a Reading Group where the others
accepted her. I found it difficult at the beginning but have read it twice since then!

Ann Mitchell's review:

I thought it was a really different book and extremely insightful into the daily problems and difficulties surrounding people with this (and similar) conditions. Also highlights that sufferers' lives can be enhanced considerably by others. If only there was enough love and patience to go around. The actual plot was good and the style of writing keeps readers carrying forward, although sometimes difficult to read how sufferers struggle with some things on a daily basis with what we are lucky enough not to notice. I would certainly recommend this book to others.

Ian Beverley's review:

I really enjoyed this. I have never read a book like this before and once I started I never really wanted to put it down. In a word, I found it entrancing.

Teresa Humphrey's review

Hope Nicely’s Lessons for Life is narrated by Hope a 25 year old young woman with FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). She lives with her ‘real’ mother Jenny Nicely at 23 Station Close and decides to write a book hoping that her birth mother will read it and maybe then she’ll find out why her birth mother abandoned her as a baby. We first meet Hope when she joins a writing group and begins her adventure taking us along an emotional and sometimes amusing roller coaster ride. Living a life of golden rules set by her mum to help her understand and deal with day to day living, Hope’s world is turned upside down when Jenny Nicely falls ill. But Hope is unique, there is only one of her and she has learnt all the lessons for life from her mum and knows that everything will be as right as rain. I wasn’t sure at the beginning if I liked Hope’s character but it didn’t take long for her to creep into my heart and affections and I can’t wait for her next adventure.

07 Apr 2021


A story written in the first person by an unusual heroine. The author was able to bring out her character despite the way that society viewed her.

10 Mar 2021


Hope Nicely-
I’m pleased that I’ve read Caroline Days book , as it has left me with an insight & understanding of FASD.I found it compassionate & moving ,well researched.
There are some great analogises.
I read it along with my book group & it received a mixed reception.
Slightly frustrating , repetitive with several threads .However , what shone through for me was humanity & kindness .

06 Mar 2021


I found the style of writing really difficult at first- repetitive and boring and thought I would not be able to finish the book. But I felt guilty about giving up- as Hope didn't ever give up and her challenges were so much greater than mine. I persevered and am so glad that I did. A remarkable book that make us so aware of the sort of struggles that some people have to deal with day on day- not just Hope but her foster mum too. And how important good friends are. There are some things that annoyed me- I think the name Hope Nicely is dreadful and this nearly stopped me from reading the book at all. But I'm so glad that I didn't let it put me off

04 Mar 2021


Last night my review at our bookclub meeting was:
“I give it two stars....”
And I commented on really struggling to get into and on with it. The repetitive bits was frustrating and I eagerly anticipating another point of narrative...
It was tiring and frustrating and felt like I was reading 20 pages for something that could have been said in 2...
Fellow bookclub members mentioned how clever it is to feel frustrated like Hope must be.
I heard what they were saying but I didn’t feel it.

I still had to read the last chapter and a half. And wasn’t going to bother finishing it.

But then, I did and this is what I shared with my bookclub today (quoting the last 5 lines of the book) :

“ I spoke too quick and eventhough my words might have mattered..... I finally finished the book... And it might have been obvious to everyone else but I only had a lightbulb moment💡 now.
The style of writing was hard to get used to.
Because she wasn’t telling us a story she was showing it through Hope’s eyes...showing not telling...

Excuse me if I am a bit late to the party on this....but if I had to write a review last night it wasn’t going to be a great one.
I did struggle reading this.
But after processing it and listening to you all last night.
I decided to finish it today.

It is

Because I felt frustrated and annoyed reading it! And that is what fuels the aggressive lashing out of the main character.
And I know Autists and FASD individuals process visually more than verbally.
But I, myself was ‘blind’ to the repetitiveness of her descriptions and associations.
It just annoyed me and I wanted to skip through the pages.

I am glad I persevered though.
And there!
on the last pages when she spoke about her perseverance I realised:

Caroline Day ! You genius !

I didn’t fall in love with Hope Nicely but now I smile brightly
For I understand the book

Well done Caroline,
And I apologise for everything I said last night at the bookclub meeting.🤐🤓
I really didn’t want to like this book.
Well played

22 Feb 2021


I found the 1st few pages a hard read but I am glad I pressed on. I found I really wanted to know how it ended. Hope with her “jumble sale” brain and “Golden Rules” was a challenging protagonist but gave a real insight to how her brain was wired. I’m glad the members of the writing group (well mostly) and Danny’s family accepted and supported Hope as she navigated her way through this story, I felt they were well written and a needed addition

21 Feb 2021


A pleasant & light read with an interesting look into FASD.
I didn’t really gain much attachment to the main character and found that her ‘Golden Rules’ would have been more pertinent to read at the start of the book, rather at the end.

19 Feb 2021


A lovely insight into the life of a young adult with learning difficulties as she joins a writing group. Written from her perspective, Hope is a charming and engaging character. She gives you a great perspective on her life and struggles, as she tries to navigate through a particularly difficult period, when her adoptive mother (and primary carer) becomes seriously unwell. A great, although not always comfortable read, as she navigates through a quite traumatic part of her life, and dips into her past history and experiences too.

19 Feb 2021

A lot of careful thought has clearly gone into this story, and in places the consequences of Hope’s birth mother’s choices are tragically sad. There are some beautiful character interactions. There are echoes of ‘Elinor Oliphant is completely fine’ and it is heartwarming how the individuals around Hope in the writers group warm to her and become supportive. However, the book does feel cliched in many places, and I did not feel empathy or engagement with the main character at all.

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