I'm a huge fan of Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison's YA books, Lobsters, Never Evers and Freshers, so have been excited to see what their solo debuts are like. I definitely wasn't disappointed by All About Us, a warm-hearted spin on A Christmas Carol which has all the fantastic humour I've come to expect from Tom.
Ben, in his 30s and feeling trapped by the relationship he's been in since university, is starting to think he made the wrong choice all those years ago. Alice - an old friend from before he met his wife Daphne - has come back into his life, and seems to want more than just friendship. Could she be the one for him? What would have happened if they'd got together all those years ago? An encounter with a mysterious man who gives him a watch which somehow catapults him back to the night he first kissed Daphne lets him see how his life could have turned out differently.
I love the way this takes aim at toxic masculinity, but also at the way in which many men don't feel they can open up to friends, even their closest ones, about anything more meaningful than random facts or trivia questions. There's a stunning line "I guess women see their friends as profound, complex human beings, while men see theirs as walking quiz machines." This touched a real chord with me - over the course of my life I've had a couple of male friends I can open up to, but it's been far harder talking about my feelings to them than to my female or non-binary friends, and I think there's still a huge societal expectation that guys DON'T talk about important stuff anywhere near as much as they need to. That's not to say it's heavy-going, though - Ellen has a lightness of touch which brought a smile to my face even at the most serious moments, helped by engaging characters. It's easy to like Daphne, Ben's mum, and the mysterious man who sets this all off for Ben, while I had a lot of sympathy for Ben himself, who has many faults but, throughout the course of the book, realises some of these flaws and takes steps to deal with them.
As things move on, the book builds to a deeply satisfying ending which shows the importance of working for what you want, of communication, and of being honest with yourself.