Friday, 14 February 2020

Head On Backwards, Chest Full Of Sand by Sandy Day

Head On Backwards, Chest Full Of Sand by Sandy Day
Published on the 14th February 2020.

H for my 2020 Alphabet Soup Challenge

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the author

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A tender story of love-obsession, the second novel from Sandy Day, Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand chronicles a young woman’s coming of age during the height of the 1970’s women’s liberation movement. Teetering on the edge of womanhood, clinging to the first love of her life as if her survival depends on it, 17 year-old Livvy is torn between subjugating herself for love or claiming her identity and independence.

When Livvy, lovesick and artistic, spends the summer with the aunt she adores, she crosses paths with a cast of memorable characters in the coastal community of Margaree, Cape Breton Island. While Livvy’s cousins torment her, house renovations disturb her, an annoying young islander tries to befriend and teach Livvy to disco dance, Livvy prepares for the much anticipated arrival of her boyfriend, Kane.

With poetic fluidity and breathtaking revelations Sandy Day draws you into Livvy’s obsession. Such a deep dive into the dire and agonizing crannies of a love-obsessed young woman establishes Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand as a memorable coming of age story.

For fans of The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Lives of Girls and Women, and The Bell Jar, Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand promises to immerse you in the world of a troubled but observant young woman coming slowly to terms with love, life, and all its messy relationships.

Livvy is such a wonderfully exasperating protagonist! I think that Sandy Day has perfectly captured her mix of childish deliciousness and teenage uncertainty in her new coming of age novel, Head On Backwards, Chest Full Of Sand. Livvy (not Libby!) narrates her story in the first person which adds to the sense of this young woman being so wrapped up in her own existence that she seems barely aware of anyone else's needs. I could strongly empathise with her obsession for Kane even while, to us readers at least, it soon becomes quite obvious that he isn't as into Livvy as she would have herself believe. Having built her dreams around his presence though - and, repeatedly, told anyone who would listen - Livvy doesn't find it easy to imagine a more realistic future.

I loved the Cape Breton setting, especially with Day's poetic prose describing the natural landscapes. I felt this place reflected Livvy well. Interactions between the characters are always convincing with Livvy's gradual realisations of how others see her being poignant at times. Concepts of family and community are very much to the fore and, while Head On Backwards, Chest Full Of Sand is firmly rooted in its 1970s historical era, its messages of finding one's own senses of identity and belonging are just as vital for young (and older!) women all these decades later.

Head On Backwards, Chest Full Of Sand lives up Sandy Day's high writing standards. Although it is not a long novel, it covers a lot of emotional ground, giving a authentic portrayal of Livvy's summer on the cusp of childhood and womanhood. It shows that physical maturity and emotional maturity don't occur in tandem and that learning how to honestly be ourselves is far more important for our mental wellbeing than clinging to unrealistic dreams. I described Day's previous book, An Empty Nest, as a coming of age story for older women. I feel the two stories work well as a pairing, exploring the transformational times in women's lives.

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Books by Sandy Day / Coming of age fiction / Books from Canada


  1. You seem to be making great progress with this challenge!

    1. I was initially, but now I have a run of books beginning with S. Grrr!

  2. It sounds like this book really knows how to do setting well. And even though Livvy is such a self centered and exasperating character, but it sounds like you understand her and why she is that way? And it seems like she develops a lot too.

    1. Livvy is a great character to read, although I wouldn't want to meet her in real life! I loved following her summer :-)