A beautifully written coming of age story that explores issues of sexuality, guilt, grief and love. But with a twist.
At the start of the novel Megan is 15 and lives with her somewhat flaky but desperate-to-do-the-right-thing mum. She never knew her father but spent a lot of time with her paternal grandparents before their deaths; ‘They did everything they could to fill the gap left by Dad’. She lives in a not so great neighbourhood, goes to school and has a few friends, but more enemies. Not very different from any teenager, right?
Megan however, has a secret; a secret so all-consuming that she can’t speak for fear of unlocking it from deep down within herself.
What the blurb says:
Megan doesn’t speak. She hasn’t spoken in months.
Pushing away the people she cares about is just a small price to pay. Because there are things locked inside Megan’s head – things that are screaming to be heard – that she cannot, must not, let out.
Then Jasmine starts at school: bubbly, beautiful, talkative Jasmine. And for reasons Megan can’t quite understand, life starts to look a bit brighter.
Megan would love to speak again, and it seems like Jasmine might be the answer. But if she finds her voice, will she lose everything else?
Throughout the novel, the reader is firmly implanted inside Megan’s head and has total access to her thoughts. We feel her frustration at not being able to put voice to her feelings and are given tantalising snippets of information about ‘The Big Reveal’ which drives the plot and quickens the pace – ‘I’m sorry about what happened. If I could change it all, I would’. You can’t help but be massively intrigued. What happened? Why won’t she speak? Is it that she really can’t?
Her frustration is no more powerfully felt than at the very start of the novel when we meet Megan struggling to rescue a drowning dog. This opening had me hooked immediately – I was almost holding my breath in anticipation.
Throughout the novel we meet a nicely rounded bunch of characters including Luke whose feelings for Megan go a little deeper than friendship and who shares her unspoken secret; Eleni – Jasmine’s exotic, vociferous mother and the gang of girl bullies led by the positively poisonous ringleader, Sadie.
Very early on we meet the beautiful, exotic new girl, Jasmine: ‘She’s like a butterfly that can’t settle on one flower’. Quickly we realise that Megan isn’t the only one to have secrets: ‘There must be a reason for her changing schools just before GCSE’s, but she obviously doesn’t want to talk about it’. We watch as their friendship deepens, through the expected ups and downs of a teenage friendship, before reaching a ‘crisis’ point.
I was impressed by the number of red herrings Abbie Rushton managed to hint at in this novel – all of which serve to keep the reader guessing. I was convinced at various points that we were going to go off down the road of schizophrenia, of eating disorders and body image issues, homosexuality and even of rape. So do we? And does it all end happily? Well, that would be telling! All I will say is that the questions we most want answered, are.
I can’t help but wonder if Abbie Rushton is a Dr Maya Angelou fan. As a child, Maya Angelou stopped talking for a long period of time following a completely harrowing experience. She convinced herself that the power of her voice could kill and she therefore had to keep it locked away… I wonder if that served as inspiration for this novel…
If I do have one criticism, it would be that I would have liked Jasmine to have a meatier backstory. In the end I felt the explanation for her move at such a critical time in her education to be somewhat anticlimactic and it didn’t ring quite true. Other than that though, an impressive debut and an author I will definitely be watching.
The bad news is that this title isn’t due to be published until February 2015. BUT you can pre-order it (for only £3.49 on kindle) to make sure you don’t miss it: