Above all else, the word that When I First Held You most brings to mind is honesty. The stories these characters have to tell resonate with heartbreaking truth that is impossible to deny.
Judith is a little stuck in her ways, grieving her partner and her past trauma. Being forced, mostly against her will, to confront a lot of her history is abrasive and challenging. It happens quickly, with no warning, and she has to try to reconcile her memories and her present life (and possibly her future) with the new information she is given.
James seems on the attack for a lot of When I First Held You. He’s always pushing forward, trying to take the next step, often forgetting that the past needs to be dealt with first. It’s hard to marry Judith’s memory of James with his choices and who he is now. Dougal is obviously the best, though.
Ruby is my favourite character. She’s flawed and complicated, but she shows real growth throughout, despite a late first appearance. Her fearlessness to search for answers and to address difficult topics with Judith, James, and Nick, but most importantly, herself – is wonderful and admirable.
There’s so much to love about how this story is told. Past and present flow together beautifully; despite a lack of labels besides POV titles, I never felt lost as to the time period. The change between perspectives or years felt natural, and information was given as needed and not withheld for more shock value. In addition, the ghosts of characters not present were felt and appreciated, rounding out this cast nicely.
The politics, poverty, and abuse are described from multiple perspectives to provide context without overwhelming what is, at its core, a beautiful and emotional story that I could not recommend more highly.