how to begin…..?
this is one deceptively badass YA novel*.
it’s like one of those neon girly drinks with, like, fruit in it and colorful sugar all around its rim that you can drink a million of really quickly and you don’t feel the power of ’em until the next day, when you get slammed all at once – a little sick, a little stunned, reeling from the aftermath.
which is a wildly inappropriate comparison to draw for a YA novel, for sure, but also pretty accurate. kids, don’t drink!
this goes down so smooth – it’s a really fast read, and the character’s voice sucks you in and speeds you through the book until you are walloped by a bold ending that leaves a lot of unresolved emotions in its wake.
i’m still processing this thing.
the basics: fifteen-year-old british/turkish yasmin is a loner with a whole slew of problems. socially awkward on her best day, she has also been steadily gaining weight since the death of her beloved father despite the best efforts of her mother and her nutritionist. she’s a constant target of ridicule at school, and home life is no better – her stepfather is impatient with her solitary mooniness and her increasing size, and her mother’s loyalties are torn between the two. yasmin also has an imaginative mind prone to obsessive fantasies, heavy on themes of martyrdom and heroism. the combination of these qualities and situations makes for one helluva powderkeg.
yasmin’s most prominent obsession is her fixation on her beautiful and popular schoolmate alice – daydreaming about them being friends (or maybe more), collecting and fetishizing objects she’s left behind, whispering imagined conversations alone in her room… one day, yasmin witnesses a man walking his dog across the playing field. she sees him see alice, and from this single glance, she determines that he is a pedophile intent on abducting alice for nefarious purposes, and devotes herself entirely to waiting for alice to be abducted so she can tell the police who the culprit is. in one of the book’s many subtle unsettling slants, yasmin isn’t so much interested in preventing alice’s abduction as she is in rescuing her after she has already been taken and, presumably, interfered with:
…the best daydream I had was waiting to see Alice after she’d been rescued. I’m outside a big building – maybe a police station – with hundreds of press people pointing their cameras at the door and then suddenly all the cameras start clicking and flashing and I see Alice coming out wrapped in a police blanket, her hair caked in mud, her face all scratched and bleeding from her struggle with you, and tears running through it all as I rush over to her and she falls into my arms. I couldn’t wait, couldn’t wait for it all to be real, to actually happen. I thought, hurry up already, Mr. Caldwell, make my day!
stalking the man, the aforementioned mr. (samuel) caldwell, leads her down a path that begins with a dognapping, and results in yasmin’s successful ingratiation into samuel’s home and his life, where she discovers a kindred spirit – a lonely outsider with social quirks that others might find odd but she accepts and barrels her way into an unusual version of friendship that gradually supplants her obsession with alice.
of course, then alice really does go missing.
an important note here is that yasmin’s awkwardly-blossoming friendship with samuel, both before and after alice’s actual disappearance does not exonerate him, in her mind, from the crime she’s always suspected him of. it’s not a case of “he’s kind to me, so he can’t have done it/be going to do it,” it’s more like “he’s kind to me, so it’s okay that he’s done it/is going to do it.” which is a much more ethically complicated situation in terms of the reader’s willingness to go along with the protagonist, and so ballsy for YA. you want to sympathize with yasmin because of her difficulties and all the loss and cruelty she’s endured, but her intensity can be a bit frightening and there’s a mutability to her that makes her hard to trust.
it’s a completely original premise, and it’s got some interesting quirks of its own – it’s written in second person, where the “you” is directed at samuel, even though it’s never really clear when she would be saying or writing this to him, or if the delivery of the monologue is all just fantasy in her head. which brings up the other quirk – the narrator’s unreliability in this case is so multilayered – there are times when the reader questions yasmin’s interpretation of a situation; the possible disparity between what yasmin perceives and what is likely actually happening, but there’s always the additional niggling possibility that some of the situations she recounts are pure fantasies.
and that ending! it leaves the reader in a sort of emotional limbo, screeching “you’re ending it here?? seriously??”
it was very jarring to realize THAT was the end of the book, because there are so many PAGES after the last (creepy) line: acknowledgments, an ‘about the author’ page, discussion questions, a Q & A, and a note from the author. i was expecting more story on those pages and kavanagh was like “nope – that’s all you get, reader!”
very, very ballsy, this one.
i loved it.
* turns out i was fooled and this is NOT a YA novel. but i’ll keep the review as is because i like to remember my mistakes. forever.
2015 karen: not so bad at book-choosing!
review to come!
i have had this on my to-read shelf since april 2015, with no memory of adding it. but now – BOOM – i won it through the goodreads giveaways. i hope karen 2015 knew what she was doing…