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  • Writer's pictureSara Bond

Pairings Project: NOWHERE NEAR GOODBYE by Barbara Conrey

TLDR; Conrey’s NOWHERE NEAR GOODBYE will break your heart in the best way.

NOTE: I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but I found it hard to do with this book. I’ll post spoiler-free reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, but I’m going to indulge in some analysis here. If you don’t want to be spoiled for what is a WONDERFUL book, please avoid the marked section!

I seem to be reading a lot of really hard books lately. While I try to read uplifting and delightful romances, comedies, and seat-of-your-pant action, fantasy, and science fiction, I keep being drawn to serious issue books this worldwide health crisis. I don’t know if it’s because I need to be reminded that there are other big things in life than the looming mortality threatened by a global pandemic, that life is more than infectious diseases and viruses, or whether I seek out stories with big problems to relate to.

NOWHERE NEAR GOODBYE is a book that doesn’t shy away from hard truths, harder decisions, and the kind of characters and people who have to face them both. This is the debut novel by Barbara Conrey, and it is so beautifully written that even when you struggle with the content, the author seems to hold you by the hand and help you through it.

The story follows a pediatric oncologist named Emma. Emma is at the top of her field, pioneering new treatments for brain cancer. She is a driven woman, haunted by Kate, the friend she lost to brain cancer when they were both kids. No matter how many advances she makes, no matter how many lives she touches, she can never find a way to beat the cancer that claimed Kate, and stole her innocence. She is more than driven: she is obsessed with beating this disease, and she is pushed further and further by her mentor and Kate’s father, the one man who is more invested in beating this disease than she is.

When Emma becomes pregnant, she lies to her husband and herself, insisting that this pregnancy is a blessing for them both. She thinks she will be able to balance being a doting mother and pursuing her obsession. It doesn’t take long for the mask to come crashing down, as Emma suffers from doubt before her daughter is born, and post-partum depression or psychosis after. Emma finds herself unable to bond with her child, unable to walk away from any aspect of her work, and unable to answer to any of the tensions this introduces in her marriage and her job.

The struggle Emma faces isn’t new. Many women find themselves torn between the demands of motherhood, fulfilling careers, and marriage.


Though she seeks help with a therapist (who happens to be one of my favorite characters), Emma seems completely incapable of compromising. She is such a tragic character, undone by her hubris, ready to rip her family apart by her obsession with the medical advancements she seems poised to discover. I held out hope for her so many times, that she would eventually make the decision to find balance, to stand by her young family, to be the mother her daughter so desperately wants, but that is Emma’s tragedy. She is blinded by the lives she could be saving, the impact she could make with her discoveries, that she can’t see the lives she is harming right in front of her.

Emma is so well written and so real and broken, it makes you want more for her. She breaks your heart time and again, though. I kept wanting her to be better, to make the choice to be there for her daughter, even if her nature prohibits it.


The climax and finale, which I won’t even dream of posting here, break your heart into a million pieces. Author Conrey manages to pull the biggest flaws, the overlooked details, and the inevitable truths about these characters together so beautifully in the end, that she kept me up MANY more hours than I had planned to be up one night. I just had to see how deftly she pulled all of the strands of this book together. You will not be disappointed by how perfectly this story turns out.

I’m not saying Conrey gives any easy answers. As a mother of young children, I constantly struggle with the perennial problem of balancing the demands of parenting and my own identity, my own ambitions. If literal lives hung in the balance, if advancement in my career meant saving other families and giving others more time with their loved ones, I can only imagine the battle I’d face every time I had to weigh my family’s needs against hundreds of others.

This book is so gorgeously crafted, I’m willing to forgive the hours of sleep I lost as I chased the last page.

TLDR; Conrey’s NOWHERE NEAR GOODBYE will break your heart in the best way.

See below for a cocktail pairing!


For NOWHERE NEAR GOODBYE, I wanted to pick a cocktail that suited Emma, the complicated main character at the heart of this book. It didn’t feel right to go with something whiskey based, as that seemed to be a drink favored by her mentor, and he already has enough influence over her. I didn’t want to go with something bubbly, as Emma is absolutely grounded at all times. I needed something as complex as her emotions, as balanced as she wishes to be, and as strong as Emma always has been.

I went with a classic cocktail, and one of my favorite drinks. A Negroni is one of those drinks that seems simple to make, but can go wrong in so many ways. The ingredients are in equal proportion to each other, so it’s really the choice of the ingredients that makes the drink work. I couldn’t think of a better pairing for a book that deals with such sensitive subjects in such a deft way. One wrong move, and Conrey’s NOWHERE NEAR GOODBYE could fall flat, make you resent the main character, or just leave a bitter taste in your mouth. It is only because Conrey has so carefully and deftly maneuvered her story elements that the book leaves the reader hopeful, inspired, and satisfied.

So when you’re picking the ingredients for this, consider the way the individual elements interact. The Campari is a constant, it’s bitter, and can fight against the other elements in the drink. For a good balance, I recommend an herbal gin instead of a London dry. Instead of Old Tom, go with a New Amsterdam, Aviation, or Hendricks. Some people like Martini and Rossi, but I like a Carpano Antica; it’s got a robust flavor that balances well against the Campari. Not everyone’s tastes are the same. Feel free to play around with the ingredients for this deceptively simple cocktail. Find your balance, and find your satisfying pairing. Nothing could be more appropriate for this book.


1 part gin

1 part sweet vermouth

1 part Campari

Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until blended. Pour into a rocks glass over a large ice cube, and garnish with a orange peel.

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