book review: Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley
Overview: If you've ever taken public transportation and have an imagination, you've probably wondered about the people who surround you on the train. What are they worried about? Where are they heading? What's the rush for? Pooley's book explores what happens when a random group of strangers on the London Underground decide to break that unspoken fourth wall and get to know each other. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 Iona is truly the heart of this book. Even though we see the book through lots of perspectives, as they say in the book, Iona is the axis that connects all the spokes on the wheel. She's an eccentric lady who loves a bold outfit, carrying her dog everywhere, and pushing the boundaries of fashion. Writing an advice column for a magazine also gives her the confidence to insert herself into everyone's business. Iona is the kind soul that anchors the book characters, but we also learn that beyond her cheery exterior, she's also going through a lot in her own life. As we peel back the layers between the character Iona puts out to the world and who she is underneath, it's quite rewarding.
That's a major theme in the book with many of the characters, especially Piers. We meet Piers as an uptight finance bro with a major secret under his icy exterior. He's clearly unhappy with his life, but as convention would have it, he'd be stupid to make a change to any outsider. As Piers finds a community beyond the social climbers in his neighborhood, he realizes that his life has more options than he'd believe.
We also meet Emmie, a social media pro potentially in denial about her seemingly perfect relationship, Sanjay, a nurse too empathetic for his own good, and Martha, a high school student struggling with bullying and looking to find her voice. They're all extremely compelling, and there's a point where one of Sanjay's scenes with a patient at the hospital made me tear up a little. The characters are the heart of the story and they more than deliver in creating the most unlikely but heartwarming found family.
Plot: 5 Half the book is spent with the characters all getting to know each other and the second half focuses on how they navigate life together and bridge the gap between semi-awkward acquaintances to true friends. The stories and random happenings that keep bringing them together lay a strong foundation, and as they get more involved in each other's lives, it's gratifying to watch them become the support systems that are otherwise lacking in their lives. The short chapters move the plot quickly, and it's impressive how well the plot works while having most of it unfold on the Underground.
Writing: 5 The short chapters and multiple points of view work so well for this book. Pooley's writing is so voicey that having so many POVs feels effortless, and it's her writing and unique spin that will keep you reading. These characters pop off the page, and she comes up with events to keep the story rolling without ever making them feel forced. The book does such a good job slowly building up to a major moment culminating the individual characters' journeys in an effortless and heartwarming fashion without ever being overdone or cringey to push a moral across. It was sweet to see the bonds that strangers – and strangers across generations and backgrounds – can become so glued together.
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