Hi everyone, welcome to the very first edition of All In Your Head’s Book of the Month column! Each month this year I’ll be reviewing a book that looks at mental health issues in one form or another. January is all about new beginnings, so it seemed only right to kick things off with a debut novel – Sophie Cousens’ This Time Next Year.
The book follows the lives of Minnie Cooper and Quinn Hamilton, strangers born one minute apart in the same hospital on New Year’s Day, 1990. Their mothers strike up a friendship in the delivery room, but when the glamorous Tara Hamilton takes off with the Coopers’ lucky name and the £50,000 prize money for the first baby born in the new decade, things turn frosty. Minnie and Quinn do not meet again until exactly 30 years later, on their 30th birthday. We then follow Minnie, our protagonist, through the year as she and Quinn begin (or resume?) their story.
The story starts on New Year’s Eve 2019 as we watch Minnie’s misfortune unfold. She spends the night asleep on the floor of a nightclub toilet; a result of a stuck lock and a battery-less phone. Her rescuer? None other than Quinn Hamilton. Our love story begins here, and we see Minnie and Quinn meet and strike up a friendship. Their lives are so different, but fate seems to be pulling them together every chance it can. This Time Next Year is a classic rom-com unafraid to lean into the clichés of the genre (with scenes like the classic ‘airport security finds embarrassing luggage item’). Cousens gives us cute, serious, and awkward moments between the couple and develops this meant-to-be relationship with a delicious dollop of banter.
While the central love story in its COVID-free 2020 might feel like pure escapism, the other relationships in the novel lend the story an unexpected depth – in particular, the relationship between Minnie and her best friend Leila. Leila is the best friend everyone needs. As Minnie’s co-business owner, she supports her dream of opening a catering company delivering pies to the elderly and vulnerable (humorously named No Hard Fillings) and encourages her to reach beyond her comfort zone. The friendship between the women felt equally as important as the romance and we get to see Leila’s life unfold too, making her a character in her own right, rather than a prop for Minnie. Likewise, the friendships between the girls and their quirky colleagues were brilliantly written. As Minnie moves back home, her family also play a big part in the plot as she learns more about her parents and their idiosyncrasies. Cousens has an ear for dialogue and a knack for making even minor characters seem very well developed.
The dynamic between our protagonists’ mums was another cleverly worked detail. For thirty years, Minnie’s mum Connie had stewed with bitterness over the woman who ‘stole’ her child’s name, money, and good fortune. However, when Minnie and Quinn’s reunion forces the two women back together, an unlikely friendship begins to bloom. Quinn’s mum struggles hugely with her mental health and Connie comes to realise that whilst a life can seem perfect on the outside, things are not always as they seem. Seeing Cousens apply ideas of mental health issues and not judging a book by its cover to her older characters rather than her young lovers made for a refreshing change and I loved seeing the bond between these two older women develop.
Despite these darker themes, Cousens’ debut is perfect for easy January reading. The tone is effortlessly light and genuinely funny, and I really loved seeing Minnie grow as a person. The strong, independent woman role is easily stereotyped, but Cousens has created a protagonist who is easy to love, flaws and all. The plot could be a little clichéd at times, but what would a romcom be without a little cliché? I also adored the New Year theme which seemed perfect for a book all about romance. Beginning and ending the novel on January 31st, as well as having flashback chapters to previous New Year’s Eves, lent the book a One Day feel which I very much enjoyed. It was true escapism to dive into Minnie and Quinn’s world, which felt a little magical at times. It also gave me the chance to relive 2020 minus the pandemic – reason enough to read in my opinion! So, if you want some romance and wit to get you through an otherwise miserable January, This Time Next Year is the perfect choice.