Pack­ing an emo­tional punch

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BOOKS - CLAIRE HENNESSY

Six­teen-year-old Leigh sees the world in colours, as vivid and var­ied as those in her paint box. Her mother’s death by sui­cide leaves her “colour­less, translu­cent. I was a jel­ly­fish caught up in a tide, forced to wher­ever the ocean willed.” Leigh’s grief is com­pounded by her fa­ther’s re­fusal to be­lieve some­thing she knows to be true: her mother is now a bird. Emily XR Pan’s de­but

(Orion Chil­dren’s Books, £7.99) draws on the east Asian tra­di­tion of the Ghost Fes­ti­val – a time when the dead visit the liv­ing – as a back­drop for one girl’s ex­pe­ri­ence of grief. Vis­it­ing her es­tranged grand­par­ents in Tai­wan, Leigh finds her­self able to ac­cess mem­o­ries of her fam­ily mem­bers by burn­ing me­men­tos, and tries to find in them the clues that will lead her to the red bird her mother has be­come.

The mag­i­cal el­e­ments of this novel serve to make Leigh’s emo­tional jour­ney all the more poignant, rather than de­tract­ing from it; the mem­o­ries are also a clever de­vice that fa­cil­i­tate the re­veal of sev­eral fam­ily se­crets. This is a beau­ti­ful, of­ten lyri­cal ac­count of re­mem­ber­ing and mourn­ing a loved one; a book that will stay with you.

Colour of Af­ter ‘Ed­ge­ofruin’

Ghosts are also present in TE Carter’s

(Si­mon & Schus­ter, £7.99), but although nar­ra­tor El­lie claims her “whole town is full of ghosts”, she’s the only hu­man va­ri­ety. The oth­ers are the aban­doned houses left be­hind when the town’s fac­to­ries closed and the pop­u­la­tion dwin­dled; homes some­times made va­cant through evic­tions. In this “bro­ken” town, the prop­erty de­vel­oper who “saved the town from the edge of ruin” holds huge sway – as do his two teenage sons.

One of those boys was El­lie’s first love. Both of them were her rapists. And all three men were involved in se­cretly bury­ing her body. “Be­ing a girl was all that landed me here. Hav­ing all the parts they wanted, but be­ing noth­ing more than that.”

To say this is a dif­fi­cult read is an un­der­state­ment. Raw truths about the cru­elty of

Some­where The As­ton­ish­ing I Stop

the world to­wards girls and women sim­mer on ev­ery page, and ob­ser­va­tions like “The sys­tem is set up to make you want to be quiet” when it comes to re­port­ing rape will hit home for many readers.

Some hope is of­fered up as girls in the town come to­gether to share their own ex­pe­ri­ences of as­sault and to sup­port one an­other, and the beau­ti­ful writ­ing goes a long way to­wards en­sur­ing that although this is an up­set­ting read, it is rarely en­tirely grim.

Teenager­sand­coun­sel­lors

The writ­ing, too, is what saves Juno Daw­son’s (Quer­cus, £7.99), a de­pic­tion of heroin ad­dic­tion and re­cov­ery, from be­ing “mis­ery lit”, although in this case it’s the breezi­ness and sassi­ness of so­cialite Lexi, who also en­joys “a cheeky di­azepam”. When she’s forced into re­hab by her older brother af­ter an over­dose, she de­scribes the exclusive cen­tre as “like be­ing at a ho­tel. A ho­tel with no booze.”

De­spite wealth and priv­i­lege, Lexi isn’t happy – but the novel in­ter­ro­gates the “poor lit­tle rich girl” trope, with both the teenagers and their coun­sel­lors dis­cussing the ways in which ad­dic­tion op­er­ates, whether it’s drugs, food or even – gasp – sex. And trust Lexi, who’s just about start­ing to re­alise that her boyfriend is a creep, to fall for the one per­son who’s in there for that last is­sue . . .

Glam­orous with­out glam­or­is­ing ad­dic­tion, and in­for­ma­tive with­out get­ting preachy, this is a highly read­able ac­count of es­cap­ing from a self-de­struc­tive spi­ral, with an ap­peal­ing love story woven in.

A new Gayle For­man novel is al­ways a

Clean

treat. (Si­mon & Schus­ter, £7.99) in­vites us into the world of three very dif­fer­ent teenagers when their lives col­lide – quite lit­er­ally, in­volv­ing a fall from a bridge in Cen­tral Park.

Each is weighed down by a se­cret, and as one of them re­flects, “se­crets carve fis­sures, un­til the fis­sures be­come trenches, and the trenches be­come chan­nels, and the chan­nels be­come crevasses, and sud­denly you are alone, on a block of ice, sep­a­rated from ev­ery­one you care about”.

The joy – and re­lief – of find­ing peo­ple to con­nect to, to trust, is pow­er­fully evoked as the friend­ship be­tween the trio de­vel­ops and the his­tory of their “get­ting lost” emerges. Emo­tional but never schmaltzy, this is a skil­fully crafted ode to “find­ing your tribe”.

Wild boy

In the early 20th cen­tury, a wild boy stum­bles out of a Cana­dian for­est, cov­ered in blood and un­able to re­mem­ber his own name. “It was widely be­lieved that he had lived for months, pos­si­bly years in the for­est, either with wolves or In­di­ans; that he fought bears and ate in­sects – a Sav­age Pa­gan!” Six­teen-year-old Emmy be­friends him, later to fall in love with him – but the town re­mains sus­pi­cious of this out­sider.

Ninety years later, her great-grand­daugh­ter, Megan, re­turns to the town just as a set of bones from decades ago have been un­earthed.

Keren David’s (Atom, £7.99) deftly moves be­tween both time­lines, of­fer­ing up two dis­tinct voices and per­spec­tives while at the same time pre­sent­ing par­al­lels in these young women’s lives and choices. Both find them­selves preg­nant as teenagers; the de­ci­sions they make are not ones they re­gret but do leave them with a se­cret to carry.

As in For­man’s novel, se­crets iso­late them from those they love, and shar­ing the truth with some­one you trust pro­vides the path back to real hu­man con­nec­tion. The truth that un­folds across the two nar­ra­tives is com­pli­cated and com­pelling, adding a deeply sat­is­fy­ing mys­tery el­e­ment to this ex­plo­ration of fam­ily and love. With the ex­cep­tion of a heavy-handed clos­ing line, there’s not a false note here.

Claire Hennessy is a writer and YA com­men­ta­tor

I Have Lost My Way Stranger

‘‘ De­spite wealth and priv­i­lege, Lexi isn’t happy – but the novel in­ter­ro­gates the ‘poor lit­tle rich girl’ trope, with both the teenagers and their coun­sel­lors dis­cussing the ways in which ad­dic­tion op­er­ates

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