British novelist Richard Roper has the uncanny ability to embroil quirky characters in heart-wrenching situations, rendering their predicaments into immensely appealing fiction. In How Not to Die Alone (retitled and reissued as Something to Live For), a grief-stricken man grappled with his sad lot in life. In Roper's second novel, When We Were Young, he again mines the theme of how breaking the shackles of the past can lead to transcendence.
As teenagers, Theo and Joel--would-be writers--were best friends until a life-changing accident drove a wedge between them. Now, estranged for more than 10 years, the two men lead separate lives. Hard-driving Joel, from a sordid family background, is a successful TV writer who harbors secrets. Floundering, lovesick and bitter Theo is barely scraping by, living in a backyard shed at his parents' house. Things take a turn when Joel crashes Theo's 30th birthday party, hoping to reconnect with his long-lost friend and to convince him to make good on a promise made in their youth: to hike all 184 miles of the Thames Path, from Gloucestershire to south east London. As the two set out on the long, arduous journey, they wind through episodic memories of the past--what united and divided them. What will it take for them to bury the hatchet and make peace?
Roper delivers an enormously moving and surprising story about the rarely documented bond of male friendship, focusing on the lengths some must travel in order truly to forgive and sacrifice for another. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines