The School Run by Helen Whitaker

I love it when a book surprises me, and this one really did. I expected something along the lines of Bride Wars, a film which although I liked at the time, I now hate. The way in which two smart women are reduced to such ridiculous and hateful behaviour really grates on me. I expected light and frothy slapstick, and whilst there is most definitely humour, but it is laced beautifully between a very honest look at modern motherhood and the relationships we form.

Imogen and Lily, ex-flatmates and friends who have grown apart over the years, are thrown together one day in the school playground whilst dropping off their three year old daughters at pre school. Over the course of the next year, both become embroiled with the school application process for the most sought after school in the area. Whilst Imogen’s preoccupation to move into catchment and create a positive impact begins to rule her life, Lily’s struggle to balance work, motherhood and her marriage, leads to a loss of self.

My son started school last year, and, whilst the rush for places wasn’t quite so dramatic, there was much to recognise. Yasmine, the leader of the ‘Organics’, for example, I’m almost sure that some version of her exists at every school up and down the country and beyond. (A special mention has to be placed here about her baked bean campaign – hilarious!!) It was her character that got me thinking – do we ever really lose the playground mentality of cliques and trying to fit in? And aren’t school politics just the grown up version of pushing, shoving and name-calling at break-time?

I very much identified with Lily and her struggle to combine ambition and motherhood. The guilt is overwhelming at times, the feeling that you’re never quite enough, that you’re being judged whether at work, in the home or – most commonly, by other mothers, never quite goes away.

There was so much I loved about this novel, but the one thing I did think fell a little flat was the backstory of ‘past’ Imogen and Lily. Their history as flatmates is often mentioned, but I would have liked to have known more about that time and the women they used to be. I just didn’t really feel that this particular element was utilised as much as it could have been and I didn’t really ‘feel’ any prior connection between the women, to the point I often wondered if it was necessary. Having said that I did enjoy the way in which their relationship evolved over the course of the novel, and perhaps that is all that matters and I’m just being picky.

Although I can’t give away the ending (obviously!) I just wanted to mention how much I loved it. These imperfect, realistic Mum’s got an imperfectly perfect ending. Not everything was tied up with a pretty bow and because of that, it felt real. I love that there are so many characters and stories out there now which represent reality. Flawed women that we recognise, not a picture of perfection we are led to believe we should aspire to be.

I found The School Run to be insanely easy to pick up and get lost in, I was eager to pick it up and read, and it’s the kind of book that you can snatch ten minutes with – which during the summer holidays is a bookish godsend! Funny and honest, I highly recommend. I will be looking forward to reading more from Helen Whitaker in the future.

*I received a copy of The School run via Netgalley. The decision to read was my own and this review forms my honest opinion.

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