Before I get started and completely forget, thanks so much to the publisher for sending me this book for review! I’m always looking for short stories like this during the semester. That way, I don’t get demoralised if I feel like I’ve been reading the same book for weeks and weeks, and can chip away at my Goodreads challenge.
When I first read the description for this book, it intrigued me. I was interested to see how they approached the issue of immigration, particularly with Brexit and Trump showing the lack of acceptance in or current world.
In reality, the book didn’t quite deliver all that I hoped, and I don’t think I’d recommend it to any young reader on principle, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
I don’t normally start a review by looking at the writing, but in this case I think it’s necessary. As a Romanian immigrant, Nicu’s English is stilted, and so the decision was made to write all of Nicu’s chapters in Pidgin English. Throughout the course of the book, this became an important part of his characterisation, showing his history and culture. However, I’m not sure I entirely agreed with the concept… let me explain. Yes, it is understandable that Nicu would speak poorly, due to his lack of fluency. However, his thoughts would be in his native tongue, and this would be fluent. I feel like this decision really hindered our ability to get to know Nicu, due to his simple vocabulary.
In terms of characterisation, I found both our protagonists very angsty, especially Jess. Now, I’m not denying that she had a tough living situation, but due to her woe-is-me attitude, I had a hard time feeling sympathetic.
And don’t even get me started on their actual issues. In a short book like this, I was hoping for something simple. But in reality, the main characters in this book were riddled with drama. It wasn’t enough that Jess is in an abusive household (a serious problem, that should be addressed), she also has to be a kleptomaniac, with alcoholic friends, an absent father, doing community service – she just had a lot of problems, which meant none of them could really be dealt with properly. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this in YA, and it definitely wasn’t the worst, but it still felt unresolved.
Going into this book, I was unaware that it is actually middle grade (the main characters are in 3rd Year in the UK, meaning they’re 13/14 years old. This is yet another prime example of a book where the ages are clearly identified, yet appear older in their actions. To a degree, I think this worked for their situation, as it alluded to the fact that they were both forced to grow up fast due to their circumstance. However, it screwed up the timeline a bit. If Nicu is 14, it’s another 2 years until he can get married (arranged or not), meaning it doesn’t really make sense for him to be going back to Romania in 3 weeks to get married.
Speaking of marriage, in a world where diverse reading is said to be very important, this book threw up some serious problems for me. The complete condemnation of Nicu’s arranged marriage was very disrespectful. I don’t feel like the authors made any real effort to understand the traditions of Nicu’s parents, meaning the story came off a little too westernised. The point of reading diversely, and writing diversely, is to attempt to better understand the cultures and traditions of others. 2 Irish authors condemning arranged marriages in Romanian culture is a dangerous territory. It didn’t have to be much, a simple conversation between Nicu and his mother about her own arranged marriage, or a letter from one of his sisters who’s just gotten married. Anything to attempt to better represent the the argument.
Now, for the bit that really upset me – the ending (obviously, there will be spoilers for the next paragraph). I hated that the solution at the end of this story was for Jess to run away. Imagine you’re a 13 year old girl who’s in an abusive household and you read this book. It promotes the idea that no one will understand or be willing to help you and that the only solution is to run away. In my mind, this is a terrible message to spread to young people, not to mention the fact that it just didn’t make sense in the story – all Jess had to do was lift one of the old phones, filled with evidence of Terry’s abusive nature, and bring it to the police, problem solved.
Before I wrap this up, you must be waiting for my famous thoughts on the family dynamic! Throughout the pages of this book I didn’t find a single admirable family trait. Yes, Jess said her mum loved her, but there was no evidence of any sort of affection between the pair at any point – they barely even spoke.
Nicu seemed to be doing alright, in that he had a nuclear family, but they couldn’t just let it be and had to make his father abusive too! Even one character in this book who was willing to help the pair would have been enough, maybe Liam could’ve given them £50 and a flask of soup, or Dawn (the case worker) might have offered some advice, or one of her friends could have been slightly less bitchy. This would have helped immensely with the message of the book, never mind the general enjoyment factor.
Overall, for me this book plays too much on the teenage idea that everything is the end of the world, and didn’t focus enough on the different people who can help. It’s sends a bad message, and I think would lead young people in a similar situation to feel even more isolated and alone.
With all of that in mind, I gave it a 2/5 stars, which sounds really low. It isn’t as bad as some of my other 2 star ratings (ahem What Light) but I just can’t get behind a book with such a poorly thought out message. Although I didn’t hate this book, it doesn’t sit well with me, and I would be reluctant to recommend it to any young reader. The book comes out of 9th February, if you’re looking for a fast read to bump up your Goodreads stats, you could always take it with a pinch of salt!
What did you guys think? How important do you think the message of a book is?