A Bit Much by Sarah Jackson

'I press my palms into my eyes after applying to a temp agency that would assign me office jobs where I would have to wear seven condoms on my personality to fit in. I practise my high, friendly phone voice that is so unlike my natural pitch: Good morning, this is Alice. How can I help you?'

A BIT MUCH

Alice is twenty-four and falling apart. She’s lost her job, her appetite, her ability to sleep. And now she’s worried she’s going to lose Mia, her closest friend, who’s being treated for a serious illness. On the days Alice can get herself out of bed, she visits Mia at the hospital. While they sink into familiar patterns—Alice makes Mia laugh, Mia tells Alice she needs to get laid—they know their friendship is changing, and they can’t control what will happen in the days ahead.

Still focused on Mia, while trying to convince others she’s a stable, happy person, Alice meets her neighbour James. They’re interested in each other, but Alice, who is a lethal combination of judgmental and insecure, is hesitant; she has never had luck with dating, and she thinks now is a weird time since Mia needs her. Mia encourages Alice to be social, while attempting to hide her own loneliness and fear as her body breaks down. But as Alice tries to push herself to do more, including allowing herself to get close to James, she struggles to move forward knowing Mia can’t.


What I thought

This book came my way via Penguin Random House Canada, and I am so glad it did. When I heard it was targeted towards fans of Sally Rooney, one of my favourite authors, I was intrigued. I requested an interview with Sarah to learn more. 

In our interview, released a couple of weeks ago, I learned about the writing process, “I wrote the first chapter in 2010 and then put it away for a year.” 

As someone who is currently writing a book, it was a breath of fresh air to hear how Jackson had been working on hers for the past twelve years. At times, I feel this amounting pressure to just get it done. Perhaps it's comparison on social media and all these book deals I see streaming through my inbox on the daily.

I picked up Sarah's debut on a rainy Wednesday evening, weighed down after a heavy week and feeling that life was all a bit much, to be quite frank. I felt busted at the end of a long day and was craving something to whisk my mind away from the present moment. 

I happened to be doing some research for my June column, and had Jackson's book at the top of my pile. The cover design, by Kate Sinclair, matched my current mood. It was kind of perfect.

Cover design by Kate Sinclair


By the time I reached the end of page two, I was giggling madly to myself on the couch. Readers are introduced to a character called Lauren Whitby, “She was the kind of girl whose favourite colour was pink, and she’d often find a way to let you know, as if it’s interesting to have a favourite colour. She pronounced pink “peeenk” — when I read that line I just lost it. 

We get a good sense of protagonist Alice within the first couple of chapters. Her thought process, mannerisms, and behaviours. She's quite an unusual gal, quirky, highly entertaining, and a pleasure to read about. Alice, an aspiring writer, copes with her problems the same way many of us do, by shutting down emotionally, distracting, and avoiding. She's super relatable.

We follow Alice as she makes frequent visits to see Mia, her best friend, on the fourth floor of the hospital. Although Mia's diagnosis isn't mentioned in the book, her symptoms are quite severe, and the treatment protocol intense. What I loved about Alice was her interactions with other characters that were introduced throughout, like Anne, Dylan, and James. Even Gus, the cat, was a lovely addition.

What felt so special about this book was the bond of friendship between Alice and Mia. The pair have known each other since Alice was four, and what they share together is beautiful. They live together, and even though Mia has moved in with her parents since her diagnosis, there's still an essence of her at their apartment. It's as though the two are tethered together. 

It's quite hard to read at times, as readers will imagine their closest friends battling an illness. However, Jackson approaches it with as much humour as she can. She adds little punch lines here and there that will have readers laughing to themselves. 

There are so many great film references sprinkled throughout which I just loved. 

And lastly, Sarah's author photo below, taken by Derek O'Donnell — let's take a moment to appreciate that. When I need an author photo, I know who I'm calling.

Sarah Jackson by Derek O'Donnell

Sarah Jackson works in publishing. She studied English Literature at the University of Toronto and lives in Toronto. A Bit Much is Sarah's debut. 

A Bit Much is available for purchase in hardcover format from Indigo and e-book or audiobook format from Kobo. Check Penguin Random House Canada for additional retailers.my June column

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