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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

When My Depression Works the Graveyard Shift: A Review of Better By Far by Hazel Hayes

Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.


Today’s review is something different, something special. Today’s review is on a book I would not have picked up on my own. A very big thank you goes out to Penguin Random House and Dutton Books for sending me a copy of today’s read. Thank you very, very much for sending me a copy of this book, it truly means a lot to me that someone out there wants to send me books. I know I sound like a broken record when I get sent ARCs, but it’s very true. Once again thank you!


So what am I reviewing today? Please give a warm welcome to Better By Far by Hazel Hayes! Better By Far is set to release on April 23, 2024.

Book cover of Better By Far by Hazel Hayes.

This is an odd little book, we’ll get into the why shortly, but for now I must issue a spoiler alert. Long time readers know the drill, I simply love to spoil the majority of the books I read. This is your one and only warning. I also must issue a content and trigger warning. Better By Far deals with death. Lots and lots of death. The main character lost her mother to suicide, and the whole story mainly revolves around this. There is also animal death near the end of the book. I cried my eyes out. Anyway, please be aware death is a major topic in Better By Far and read it at your own discretion. There is also discussion of infertility. One of the side-plots is a minor character’s struggles with IVF. Again, please read this book at your own discretion. With that, let’s get to the synopsis.

Bears waving.
If you're jumping ship, that's fine, I'll see you next week.

Despite breaking up, Kate and Finn decided to continue living together. Kate will stay there one week while Finn will live in the apartment the following week. Sounds like the set up for a rom-com but you’d be wrong. The break up brought a lot of depressing thoughts back to Kate. Namely her mother’s death from roughly two decades ago.


When Kate isn’t staying at her apartment, she’s couch surfing at various friends’ houses. While with her friends, they’re discussing life, love, heartbreak, their future, life goals, and wants among many other topics. The goal is to get Kate’s mind off of Finn, but in reality, it doesn’t work all that well. She’s still thinking about Finn, and mainly the good times they had together, but when she’s not thinking of him, the poor girl is thinking about her deceased mom.


That’s the main focus of this novel. Even though Kate’s mom passed away decades prior to the start of the novel, she still misses her mom greatly. The story that follows is one of her coming to terms with her mother’s death. This story is Kate realizing she never did that in her childhood and facing her trauma head on.


Better By Far is an odd novel. The official synopsis makes this story seem like it will be a romance. A rom-com about a pair of exs who still live together and will likely rekindle their romance by the end. But that’s not the case. Romance is the furthest thing from this book. Finn, despite being a main topic of conversation between characters, isn’t properly met until the last forth of the novel. The official synopsis does this book dirty!

Woman drinking wine and rolling her eyes.
Between the synopsis and cover, I anticpated rom-com.

I enjoyed Better By Far, I really did, it’s not a book I would have picked up had I seen it in a bookstore. And I don’t say that to be offensive. It’s simply something I wouldn’t have gravitated towards; especially with the official synopsis. Let me write the official one real quick.


Following a breakup, Kate and Finn decide to keep sharing their house until the lease runs out in twelve weeks, alternating week by week so that they are occupying the same space but never at the same time.
Practically, the plan makes sense, but coming back each Sunday to a home where Finn has been and gone feels far too much like living with a ghost. Kate lost her mother at a young age and now this fresh grief dredges unhealed sorrows up to the surface, and soon Kate finds herself adrift in her own subconscious, trapped in the space between loving someone and letting go.


You kinda miss the part about Kate’s grief over her mother; or at least I did. A bigger focus is on the breakup and apartment. I feel the synopsis does not do a good job at grabbing readers’ attention and telling readers what the book is about. And that’s my biggest issue.


When I began this book I was not prepared for what the story was truly about. I anticipated a bit of “woe is me” from Kate as she got over her breakup. I did not anticipate her seeing visions of her deceased mother in scenes that felt like they were straight out of The Ring. Big fan of those scenes by the way. There’s about three horror-esque scenes throughout the book and I adored all of them. They do feel a little out of place though, and those who don’t read or enjoy horror will likely not enjoy their inclusion.

Samara from The Ring.
The horror scenes don't fit.

Seriously, this book is a mixed bag. It does a great job at discussing how important it is to take time and properly grieve. It also does a good job at discussing how grief hits everyone at different times and has different effects on every person. When the story is grounded in reality, it does well. Though when Kate’s grief makes her subconscious run wild thus resulting in dream sequences, the book grinds to a halt. Those horror scenes I love so much did make me go back and reread what exactly was happening. Better By Far is so grounded in reality that those dream sequences take you out of it. While relevant to the overarching story, I do not support their inclusion. I will support their inclusion should the transitions be improved upon. As it stands, it does feel like there are supernatural elements in this super realistic book. It makes the book feel disjointed. I don’t like it.


At this point I should talk about our girl Kate. This is her book, this is her story, her grief. I appreciate how broken she is. She begins the story broken, she ends the story broken but building herself back up. I would say she has a good character arc. Her problems haven’t magically been solved by the end of the novel, but she has certainly grown. We love to see it. Now I wouldn’t say she is the most remarkable character. Truthfully, I don’t know much about her. She’s just a person, just your average person. But that’s what makes her a great character in my book.


Thank you very much for joining me today, and another huge thank you to Penguin Random House and Dutton Books for sending me a copy of Better By Far. I know I say this all the time, but I truly mean it; I’m forever grateful anytime someone out there wants to send me books. And with that, I shall bid you all adieu. I shall see you all again next week with another great post. If you can’t wait that long then you can check out my podcast, Nothing to See Hear, on Spotify and YouTube. You can listen to me tell you a spooky story or listen to me and my two co-hosts talk about the one and only Scooby-Doo among many other things.


Until next time, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.

Bears waving.
See y'all then, bye!

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