I’ve been a bit lax with posting book reviews lately – mainly because of the writing degree I’m doing and this section of the course is ‘Writing Short Fiction’, so I’m basically drowning (metaphorically but it feels SO literal at times) in short story anthologies and I’m not really reading much full-length stuff.
“Olive and Vivien are sisters, born in London to Jamaican parents and brought up on a council estate. They go to the same grammar school. Vivien’s life becomes a chaotic mix of friendships, youth clubs, skinhead violence, A-levels, discos and college. Olive, three years older and a skin shade darker, has a very different tale to tell…”
And I knew I was going to love reading this just from the blurb, because (and I’ve said this before) I’m so not a kittens, cupcakes and cottages kinda gal. Give me raw reality and edge of tether stuff – NOT, I hasten to add, going as far as those ‘Why Doesn’t Somebody Love Me?’ dirges, though (I do have my limits). And this little belter, coming in at a nicely respectable ‘read-me-in-less-than-four-days-tops’ 282 pages, satisfied me enormously.
Told alternatively from Olive’s and Vivien’s viewpoints, and in short, sharp chapters, I instantly bonded with both girls – their hopes, their fears, their differences and their similarities and the ultimate familial bond they have with each other. It’s endearing, affecting, soul-searching, soul-destroying and also life-affirming.
I was instantly taken back to my own schooldays and the worries and pressures of both peers and teachers to perform well; coupled with the realisation that there are boys on your periphery and for some reason you’d quite like one – or at least like one to like you. Mix this with the angst of knowing that somebody somewhere is always going to be unhappy with one or two decisions you might make, and it makes for a compelling read.
I loved Olive and Vivien and I was rooting for them the whole way through (their mother is perfection) and I’m so glad I read this. I will definitely read again, it’s such a comfortingly troubling read – precisely how growing up feels.
9/10 Comforting, disturbing and life-affirming. I felt so much less alone after reading.