Book Review by Julie Kish             

Never Been Better
A novel by Leanne Toshiko Simpson
HarperCollins, March 2024

Never Been Better has the flavour of a romantic comedy, but it’s so much more. West Rouge native Leanne Toshiko Simpson has written an essential work of fiction and found the perfect balance between entertaining and informing the reader.

This unique debut novel delights the reader with a fun story about a group of quirky people who attend a destination wedding while highlighting the daily struggles of people with mental illness. The author deals head-on with serious subjects but manages to keep the story’s overall tone light-hearted.

The story begins when the main character, Dee, receives an invitation to the destination wedding of her friends Matt and Misa. The self-proclaimed “Three Musketeers” met one year earlier when they were patients in a psychiatric ward. All three characters suffer from bipolar disorder.

Dee met Matt first, called “dibs” on him and has been in love with him ever since. She believes he is going to be the hero in her recovery, and the idea of losing him throws her into emotional turmoil.

Dee decides to attend the wedding in Turks and Caicos with the idea that she might try to break up the couple, and she brings her hilariously outspoken sister, Tilley, as her plus-one. The close relationship between the sisters is a highlight in the story, and Tilley stands out as a shining star. Her well-timed one-liners and sarcastic comments help to break up weighty moments.

The complex relationship between the three main characters is disclosed through Dee’s flashbacks to their time in the psychiatric ward. Some secrets and misunderstandings add to the intriguing plot. The heart-breaking descriptions of the characters’ mental health struggles are exceptionally realistic and draw attention to the author’s expert writing skills.

The story is set in Scarborough, and it was fun to recognize the familiar landmarks described in the novel. The main character says her neighbourhood is a place where bungalows are knocked down and replaced with gray mini-mansions. I’ve never heard our area described like this, but it is an accurate description.

I also enjoyed the expert history lesson embedded in the plot. Like the author, the character Misa is a Japanese-Canadian with a grandmother who spent some of her childhood in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. In the aftermath of the war, the Japanese Canadians rushed to assimilate, which caused them to lose much of their language and cultural practices. It’s a sad part of Canadian history that has not received enough attention.

Overall, I loved everything about this novel. Congratulations to Leanne Toshiko Simpson.

I want to thank HarperCollins for providing me with a digital Advance Reading Copy of this book. Never Been Better will be available for purchase on March 5.

Profile of author Leanne Toshiko Simpson