Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks was a stunning read

Two by TwoTitle: Two by Two
Series: N/A
Author: Nicholas Sparks
Genre: Adult Fiction, Women's Fiction, Romance
Publication: October 4th 2016, Sphere
Pages: 496 pages, Hardcover
Source: Library

#1 New York Times bestselling author Nicholas Sparks returns with an emotionally powerful story of unconditional love, its challenges, its risks and most of all, its rewards.
At 32, Russell Green has it all: a stunning wife, a lovable six year-old daughter, a successful career as an advertising executive and an expansive home in Charlotte. He is living the dream, and his marriage to the bewitching Vivian is the center of that. But underneath the shiny surface of this perfect existence, fault lines are beginning to appear...and no one is more surprised than Russ when he finds every aspect of the life he took for granted turned upside down. In a matter of months, Russ finds himself without a job or wife, caring for his young daughter while struggling to adapt to a new and baffling reality. Throwing himself into the wilderness of single parenting, Russ embarks on a journey at once terrifying and rewarding—one that will test his abilities and his emotional resources beyond anything he ever imagined. 

This is my second Nicholas Sparks book. I read See Me on the 1st of July and then immediately picked up Two by Two. I've never read adult fiction, and I'm not particularly fond of books that make me cry, so I'm not entirely sure what tempted me to start reading his books. But I did. And I've fallen in love with his writing, characters, romances and story lines.

Two by Two is about Russ. He's got a beautiful wife, lives in a large house, has a good job and a wonderful little girl, London. However, cracks begin to form in his perfectly-constructed life and in the blink of an eye, he finds himself with no job, a wife that seems like a stranger, and a newfound role of being a mom and a dad to little London. As he hits rock bottom and tries to make sense of his new life, he slowly regains his footing. He discovers strength he never knew he had, a friendship of solid gold in the form of Emily, his ex-girlfriend, and he develops a deeper bond with his young daughter. However, as things begin to fall into place, a devastating incident shakes the world he has only just begun to repair.

Going into this book, I knew I was going to cry. I've watched Nicholas Sparks' movies, and I know of his reputation. I don't even like reading tear-jerkers (unless they're the happy kind). However, after reading See Me, I knew I needed to read more of his books. Since this was another book of his nearing 500 pages, and since I'm currently participating in the Tome Topple readathon, I thought this would be the perfect next read. And, once I got into it, it was.

At first, I considered DNFing. This book has a slow start, a reallyyyy slow start. There are pages upon pages of internal monologue and the character's day to day routine. The amount of times I read about Vivian sitting on the couch, asking for a top-up of wine whilst flicking through a magazine and then picking a fight with Russ was almost one times too many....however, at the 150 page mark, the book started moving along, and I found myself completely engrossed in the story. I began to speed through the book and I found myself missing the characters when I was away from the book – that's when you know it's a good read, right?

I also nearly DNFed this because of the content and age of the characters. They were in their early thirties and going through a tough time in their marriage. As a nineteen year old who's never even been in a relationship, I found myself wondering if I was really interested in reading a book about characters who were in a completely different stage in their life. But then I remembered that that's one of the beauties of reading: it puts you in someone else's shoes. I was in Russ's shoes for this book; it was an uncomfortable place to be at times, but it was worth it. This book delves into heavy topics that could make the reader feel anxious and depressed, but Nicholas Sparks managed to infuse the book with charm, love and heart that fills the reader with courage and hope, producing a bittersweet, emotionally charged novel that tugs at the heartstrings.

In a book, the characters are often the most important part of the novel to me. I loved the characters in this book. I saw quite a lot of reviews complaining about Russell being a doormat and having no backbone, but I really liked him. He was sweet. He worked hard. He always did what he thought was best for his family. Yes, he probably should've stood up to Vivian, but he didn't because he just wanted to make her happy. He wanted to keep the peace and ensure his home was a happy environment for his wife and his daughter. He was such a good guy – and such a brilliant father! It absolutely melted my heart. I loved how much time he spent with London and all he did for her. Everything he did was to ensure that London was healthy and happy. I loved how the novel showed the deep bond they formed – it was utterly adorable. I also really appreciated that Russell was a sensitive guy. He cried in front of others and he would speak about his problems to his close friends and family. It's largely upsetting how many men today feel that in order to appear strong they must refrain from crying and speaking about their problems. I loved that Russell demolished that toxic viewpoint and freely expressed how he was feeling. He was sensitive and deeply compassionate, and he embraced it. GO, RUSS!

Obviously, I loved London and Bodhi, Emily's son and London's best friend. They were so adorable. Their antics and view of the world was so innocent and imaginative: it added happiness and wonder to a story that could've easily felt dark and hopeless.

Emily was such a wonderful character too and a stark contrast to Vivian. She was positive and wise and encouraging. She was a wonderful friend to Russell, and I admired her ability to forgive Russell for the stupid mistake he made when they were dating years ago, as well as to trust him again. Emily was the perfect antithesis of Vivian. Her character brought so much more joy and light to the story which I absolutely loved. I could almost feel the positive effect she had on Russ. She was a brilliant friend and exactly what he needed: a rock when everything else was crumbling.

Then there was Vivian. “What a cow” was muttered several times whilst reading this. She was manipulative, selfish and emotionally abusive. She constantly played the victim and blamed poor Russ for everything. It crushed my heart to see all her piercing words make him feel like he was never good enough. She did so many despicable things and was extremely superficial. She was cruel and conniving and UGH. Just ugh. At least she had some redeeming moments towards the end. Some.

I also loved how involved Russell's family was in his life. His dad was gruff, tough and constantly trying to fix things. However, there were moments he revealed his sensitive side, especially towards the end of the book, and it had me crying. Russell's mom was so lovely and had experienced so much pain throughout her life, I just wanted to give her a hug. Then there was Marge, Russell's sister. I LOVED Marge. She was a brilliant older sister – she teased Russell mercilessly, gave him incredibly wise advice and was always there for him and he there for her. She was witty and hilarious and I loved her character. Her partner, Liz, was also such a sweet, supportive character. Their family bond was so strong. I loved how Russell would spend hours chatting to his family on the back porch while London sat and watched baseball with her grandfather or did gardening and baking with her grandmother and aunts. The strength, love and complexity of family was explored in this book. By the end of Two by Two, I felt almost as if I was a part of the family.

Despite this being a Nicholas Sparks book, there wasn't as much romance involved. There was love, of course. The love being a father and a daughter, a brother and a sister. There was the promise of a romance between Emily and Russell but it was quite implicit for the majority of this book. This isn't a grand love story and you shouldn't go into this expecting one. It's a tumultuous novel about falling out of love, the difficulties of marriage and infidelity. It's about losing your job, the life you used to know and having almost everything taken from you. However, it's also about friendship and a new love between old lovers. It's about family and resilience and courage. This book contains the devastating lows that life can throw at us, as well as the sweet, priceless things that sustain us through the difficulties.

However, there were a couple of minor issues I had with this book that prevented me from giving it the full five stars. The first thing I already mentioned: so many unnecessary details. Perhaps Sparks wanted to really familiarise us with the routine so that we could feel the vast change in Russell's life. If so, it worked. I felt the devastating impact of all the upheaval in his life, and, like Russ, I felt slightly confused and worried and lost. I think by including all the details and allowing the reader to get such an in-depth look into Russell's life, it made all the change that much more hard-hitting.

Secondly, it was quite discouraging to read about the family refraining from going to church after Marge came out. I know a lot of people will sympathise with their decision to do so, but as a Christian, I found it sad that they stopped going completely due to Marge's sexuality.

I also would've liked to see a bit of Vivian's point of view. Her anger and bitterness seemed completely unfounded. I would've liked slightly more understanding as to why she started being so attacking towards Russell. The book was completely one sided and there was no explanation for Vivian's antics. Perhaps that was just the way she is, as his family implied that she was a bit of a disaster from the early stages of their marriage.

That being said, I still fell deeply in love with this book. Two by Two is a sentimental read. It's nostalgic read. It's a touching read. At the beginning of each chapter, Russell recalls a memory from his life, a memory involving Emily, London or his family. It added a touch of authenticity, emotion and heart to the story. It allows the reader to feel as if they've known Russell through every stage of his life. Most of the characters were deeply fleshed out and all had their own unique personalities that added richness and complexity to a deeply layered, intertwining story. Two by Two is book that explores the devastation of a broken marriage, the heartbreak of loss, the difficulty of being a parent and financial worries. It's emotional and it's hard-hitting because it's so real. The things that happen in this book could happen to anyone at any given time which makes it quite a difficult story to swallow at times. However, threaded throughout the story, is the promise of hope and courage, of friendship and family. I love that this book teaches that even once you've gone through something devastating, you will find the strength in you to continue. You will laugh again, you will smile again, and things will eventually be okay.

I loved watching the bond between Russell and 6-year-old London grow – it was incredibly sweet. I loved watching Russell begin to gain confidence in himself. I admired how hard he worked and his resolve to keep his family as happy as possible. I loved the strength of the bond between Russell and his sister, Marge; I loved Russell and Emily's friendship that was based on trust and care and love, that began to grow into something more. I just loved the complexity and emotion this book was filled with. Yes, it has a slow start – but keep going. You won't be disappointed.

I've only read two Nicholas Sparks book but he's quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. His books are authentic: they contain the vast spectrum of emotions that feature throughout our lives. They tackle the difficulties of life with grace and sensitivity and hope, and explores relationships and love in such a genuine manner.

I absolutely loved Two by Two. It was gut-wrenching and heartbreaking, but it was also filled with hope, happiness and encouragement. I highly recommend it.

I give it: 4.5/5 cupcakes