The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is a sequel – sort of. In 2012 author Rachel Joyce published the first novel, “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”. To follow Queenie’s tale you need to know Harold’s story.

Recently retired Harold Fry lives a solitary life with his wife of 40 years in the southern English village of Kingsbridge. One morning in mid-April Harold receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy. It has been twenty years since he has heard from Queenie and now she is writing to say good-bye. She is in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed in the northern most part of England.

After penning an awkward reply Harold heads out to post his letter at the nearest box. But when he gets there he is reluctant to send his reply and walks on to the next box then the next.

At a stop for refreshments he tells the young clerk he is posting a letter to a friend who has cancer. She replies her aunt had cancer but you have to believe they will get better. She says “if you have faith, you can do anything”.

As Harold reaches the last box in Kingsbridge he comes to the realization that he wants to have faith, he wants to make a difference. He calls the hospice on a pay phone to leave a message for Queenie – tell her Harold Fry is coming and all she has to do is wait. He will keep walking and she will keep living.

With that Harold begins the 627 mile walk from one end of England to the other in his inappropriate yachting shoes and a windbreaker. He marks his progress with postcards to Queenie, his wife, and the girl who told him to have faith.

Reaching Queenie is the goal in this novel but she is a just a character; Harold and his life is the story. So now Joyce brings us Miss Queenie Hennessy and the rest of the story.

It begins when Queenie receives Harold’s first letter telling her to wait. When the letter arrives Sister Catherine remembers Harold’s phone call. The excitement of a visit is soon tempered by the realization of just how far Harold has to walk and the realities of a life in hospice care.

Surgery and cancer has taken away most of Queenie’s ability to communicate. She laboriously writes notes. Deeply upset by all she has to tell Harold and her inability to communicate, Queenie is visited by a nun new to the hospice, Sister Mary Inconnu. Sister Mary tells Queenie she must write a second letter and she will help. Queenie can write in shorthand and Sister Mary will type up the notes.

Queenie’s letter is as if she is talking directly to Harold. She fills him in on life in the hospice and reflects on her time in Kingsbridge. Unrequited love, friendship, sacrifice and heartache are all covered as well as her life after Kingsbridge in her garden by the sea.

We now view Harold through Queenie’s eyes and heart. We see a Harold very different from how he sees himself. And the tragedy that tore Harold’s life apart and forced Queenie to leave Kingsbridge forever is the final truth she needs Harold to know.

But this is more than a story of two people. The other inhabitants of the hospice get caught up in Harold’s journey. Flinty, Barbara, Mr. Henderson, and the Pearly King are soon anticipating each postcard and are drawn closer together.

Joyce not only completes Harold and Queenie’s story but also explores life with a terminal illness. The emotional path to acceptance has already been taken by some of the characters but not by all. The undertaker’s van comes often. Sometimes the visit is matter of fact and other times it is heartbreaking.

If you read about Harold first – which you should – you know how this ends. However, knowing in no way diminishes the impact of Queenie’s story. I enjoyed both novels and the characters stay with you long after you read the last word.