As I’m currently studying ‘Writing for Children’ as part of Level 2 in my Creative Writing degree with the OCA, I’m reading and reviewing a lot more children’s books than I generally do. Having said that, I used to read a TON of Young Adult books when my Girl was living at home, and so when she was aged around 13/14, we’d swap books after having read them ourselves and have a great time discussing them. I even bought the A-Level English books she was studying, both to allow me to relive my own A-Level English Lit studies, and to help her if she needed a sounding-board with any work she had to hand in. When I was reading ahead of ‘Dracula’, she kept asking me what was happening next and if it got any more interesting than dull old Johnathan’s dire-y entries.
Have I digressed? I think I have. Back to these three.
I read ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio because it’s a fairly contemporary read and I’d noticed it at the top of the bestsellers charts for a while. Also I’ve never read about a disfigured/disabled child before and the reviews sounded hopeful. I raced through it. I did wonder (see what happened there?) if the narrative of main character, August, could be satisfactorily maintained through the book to sustain interest, because I felt there was only so much ‘they’re staring at me’/’I’ll never fit in’ which could be used without the story becoming repetitive. My answer, though, came in the form of other characters’ narrations as they were given voices and chapters for themselves. I got to know them as well as August – found out how they felt having August in their lives, and it worked brilliantly. I won’t spoil it for anyone because it is such a great read you’ll feel as if you actually had August in your life yourself. The ending is really special.
‘The Tulip Touch’ by Anne Fine is a ‘recommended read’ in the college coursework book. Published in 1996, it tells the story of Natalie, whose parents pick up the running of a Hotel called The Palace and about what happens when Natalie meets an almost feral kind of girl called Tulip who turns out to be a pupil at the new school she attends. Told through Natalie’s eyes as she is sucked into this enigma of a child, the two girls become inseparable almost to the point of obsession, until Tulip goes one step too far and Natalie begins to back away for her own sanity. However, what happens because of this detatchment has far-reaching and haunting consequences for both Natalie and her family. Again, I won’t spoil the story. It’s gripping and realistically told and I could imagine myself being the naieve Natalie, believing everything this peculiar girl told me and feeling in some way responsible for her well-being. The last sentence actually took my breath away and Tulip followed me around for a good while afterwards.
I’d already read ‘The Lovely Bones’ and ‘The Almost Moon’ – preferring the latter over the more publicised former (perhaps because of the opening paragraph) and after I’d finished ‘Lucky’, I re-read the first page of ‘The Almost Moon’ again found myself drawn right back in… I’d highly recommend it if you like reading about dysfunctional families.
Having said that, ‘Lucky’, although autobiographically centred around the author’s rape as an 18 year old in her first year at university (freshman year), also deals with a dysfunctional family – these issues not brought about by the fallout of this vicious event, but having already been part of ‘normal’ life beforehand. It’s a powerful retelling of what is not only traumatic but a life-changer, for everyone involved. It made me imagine how Alice Sebold’s life might have been had she not been the victim of this brutal rape, but, and as her story underlines, there is no point in ‘what if’s in situations like these – there is only pushing forward and going on, or, as the author herself says: “You save yourself or you remain unsaved.”
As with ‘Wonder’, ‘Lucky’ left me feeling very grateful that these books have been written. They both highlight the terrible, silent suffering that others endure while we wake up worrying that the washing up wasn’t done before we went to bed. A metaphorical slap round the face is sometimes all we need to clear our blocked tubes.
Magnificent reads, the lot of them.