If anyone asked me for a story from my life in the present tense, I always went blank.
Of course I wasn’t trying to invite tragedy into my life. I knew the takeaway from the pain is sadness, not anecdotes. But everything around me and life felt ordinary, hopelessly average even clichéd. All I wanted was something of some significance to happen.
And then, so slowly at first I almost didn’t notice it happening, it did.
So this is Sara Barnard’s first novel and she’s seen to be one of the rising stars in YA. This book came out early last year and follows the friendship of three girls; Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne. Caddy and Rosie have been friends for 10 years and the story really starts when Suzanne arrives at school as the new girl. They take her in and their friendships are tested.
What I will say is a strength to this book is its pace. It’s a very quick and easy read once you get past some of the things I’m going to mention later on. Barnard has made a conscious effort to make a book that reads very easily Waterstones have placed this in the Children and Teenage Fiction section which I think is right for the style of writing and the pace of the book. It’s definitely a book I feel I should’ve read in the middle of my secondary school years, but as an adult I have some serious issues with it.
The first is our protagonist Caddy. She’s annoying. I’m going to put that out there point blank. I really disliked her voice and the way she was portrayed. In the introduction we’re told that just after turning 16 she wants to do three things; 1) get a proper boyfriend, 2) lose her virginity and 3) have a significant life event. Not only is this a horrible message to be sending to 16 year old girls, but Caddy’s definition of a significant life event concerned me too. She brings up the examples of her sister and her best friend Rosie. Tarin, her sister, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Rosie’s dad left her mum and her baby sister was a victim of cot death. These are their significant life events. Caddy doesn’t believe herself to be interesting because these things haven’t happened to her. Whilst she claims not to want to invite tragedy into her life, she seems to go and seek it out frequently throughout the novel, just to become interesting.
This links to another thing I really wasn’t too keen on in this book. Every character seemed to be based on a stereotype of sorts. No one broke out of those boxes. Even Caddy, who’s seen as the good girl, follows the trope of the good girl gone bad throughout the course of the novel. Suzanne is the mysterious new girl with a secret, but also the stunningly beautiful girl who doesn’t believe in her own self worth. Rosie is the funny, bitchy best friend. Even Caddy’s dad is the stereotype of a dad who works so much he doesn’t really see his child. It’s quite disconcerting that in a book that had so much potential to be quite interesting, that Barnard focussed on reinstating these already pretty established stereotypes.
However, what I will say is that the parents in this book are written so well. Caddy’s mum and dad reacted exactly as I wanted them to about Caddy’s behaviour and even though we’re reading from Caddy’s perspective, every time they said something I agreed with them. I didn’t care enough about Caddy to really appreciate her reactions to what they were saying, because they were right. Sarah is also a great character in this book. She’s Suzanne’s aunt and is currently her guardian. She tries to stay chipper and upbeat but as the story progresses we see her struggles and I completely understand where she is coming from. True there are some things that she says that I feel should’ve been worded differently, but then again she was speaking in the heat of the moment and those were probably words that many of us would’ve chosen.
Whilst the parents are written so well, this book suffers from useless sibling syndrome. Brian and Tarin, Suzanne and Caddy’s respective siblings don’t really have much use in the story. I feel that ultimately the story could’ve continued without them. We are made to think that Brian is a key component in this story because Suzanne talks about him a lot in contrast with the rest of her family, yet in fact he becomes a glorified chauffeur when Caddy and Suzanne make a mistake. Tarin is just a character I believe Barnard threw in to claim this book dealt with mental health. She’s a character recovering from bipolar disorder and honestly I would’ve loved it to go more in-depth with that storyline. She just seemed mostly happy the entire way through the novel, and she really added nothing to the storyline, apart from one small element that would’ve happened without her.
Yet this book does have an interesting storyline, following these three girls and I feel that the friendship was explored in a very interesting way. The prose was broken up occasionally with text messages and emails (although I did find this one weird for a book set in modern time… who emails friends anymore?). This allows us to get to know their relationships when there’s just the two of them.
What I disliked though was the twist or the “exciting and mysterious past” as it was marketed. This was something I guessed almost from the minute Suzanne was introduced. It was clarified. And it just fell a bit flat for me. There was something really exciting about the whole idea of a “mysterious past” and I almost hoped she’d be in witness protection or have killed someone herself (spoiler; she didn’t) and the actual past she had wasn’t that exciting to me. I’ve read much better books that have dealt with the issue that’s raised in this book. Additionally, the way it is explained to us is through a conversation they have in which Caddy drops in about Suzanne’s triggers. This is not something that young people should be taught to do. Triggers are individual and can often cause a lot of pain for someone. To be looking for them and then bringing it up just to find out some information about someone is an appalling thing to do. And Caddy receives no consequences for doing it.
In fact, there are really no character consequences at all. Caddy is often told off by her parents and “grounded” but she sneaks out. There’s then no reprimand for that. The real only consequence comes right at the end of the novel as far as I can see, but even then it isn’t really something that will deter her. Suzanne doesn’t have consequences. She gets suspended about half way through the novel, for three days, and Sarah doesn’t do anything to reprimand her for her behaviour, but seeks justice for the actions of another character.
Even the arguments between characters don’t have consequences in places of the novel. Sometimes characters will argue on one page and then two later they’re the best of friends again. This does happen but girls are well known for holding incredibly long grudges. There are some events that the girls argue over in this novel that I have known to break friendships up completely.
So overall, I’d say this is a good book for a much younger audience who haven’t experienced much in the realm of contemporary literature. For anyone who is a fan of contemporary it is very much like what you have seen before with very much cookie cutter characters and a disappointing plot with a disappointing ending. Maybe this wasn’t the best book to start my 2017 reading off on…