I’m going for a bumper review this time out – three books I got from the library a few weeks ago. The first, Stolen, I’ve had recommended to me by quite a few people; If You Find Me and Arabesque were curiosity grabs.
Stolen by Lucy Christopher is styled as “a letter to my captor”. Gemma, a British teenager, is kidnapped at an airport and taken to the remote outback of Australia. It is written entirely in second person, which adds to the disconnected atmosphere the author creates. The whole experience feels slightly dream-like and unreal, and Gemma’s voice sustains it really well. Reading it, you are sucked in to Gemma’s ordeal and with a narrative that allows such access to her thoughts, you start to wonder about the man who took her. Gemma is desperate to go home, but is also curious about her captor – she refers to what these cases feel like from the outside, watching on the news, and wondering how anyone would be able to find her in the deserted outback.
The book is well-crafted and everything feels very deliberately and carefully timed to maximise the feeling of disjointedness. Curiosity keeps both the reader and Gemma going, and the idea of stockholm syndrome is explored very well, as Gemma begins to feel some sympathy for her captor. As Gemma (and the reader) get to know him, it becomes harder to place him in the box of ‘captor’ – and Christopher does an excellent job of showing how people don’t fit into the neat little boxes we create for them. The only downside for me was that the dream-like sensation of reading it makes the book feel a lot shorter than it is – but then again, that may very well be the point.
I followed this with If You Find Me, a story about two girls who are recovered from a camper van hidden in the woods by social services. Their mother, an addict, is usually absent for long periods and leaves Carey to bring up her little sister Jenessa. Through Carey we see her limited and idealised version of life in the woods that she uses to paper over memories she would rather forget. The two are sent to live with their father, to Carey’s dismay; her mother has always told her the reason she toook them away was because of him. But the longer they stay in their new home, the happier they become. They are introduced to a new way of life, enrol in school, and begin to make friends.
This wasn’t the most grabbing of books, but Carey is a wonderful character and I wanted to find out what would happen to her. She is far older than her years and you can sympathise with her as she adjusts to a new family and not having to be so utterly independent. She can never quite suppress the past, and by the end of the book we discover why. The author manages to bundle the uncertainties of teenage years into what would otherwise be a fairly joyless story. The hope that Carey and Jenessa gain from their new home burns through and pulls you to the finish line.
The last book from this haul is Arabesque by Colin Mulhern. It is the story of Amy May, a future Olympic gymnast, and her best friend Mia, who are caught up in a botched kidnapping and are subsequently forced into becoming puppets to the criminal underworld. The short, punchy chapters work well, and offer multiple third-person limited viewpoints from which the story is told. The characters are largely superficial, which is a disappointment, and I found Mia more interesting than her friend. Amy is trapped in a house with a well-off criminal who uses Mia to get Amy to participate in a heist for him, as her gymnastic skills are ideal for the job. Mia is shut up in a porn studio, where the only thing protecting her is Amy’s co-operation.
This isn’t a challenging read and it is only the sheer speed of events that stopped me from putting it down altogether. The secondary character should never be more interesting than the main, which meant that for me the scenes with Amy dragged; I was waiting for when Mia would turn up again and to see if she manages to escape. The other thing that bothered me was the ending. For me, I turned the page and all of a sudden there was no more novel. And no, it wasn’t missing any pages. It hadn’t finished on a cliffhanger to lead into a sequel (like Ashes), or indeed a cliffhanger of any kind – it felt entirely that the author had just put his pen down and not bothered with the final two pages. Unfortunately, this ending marred my not particularly high opinion of the novel, and I was left feeling majorly underwhelmed.
Best book and recommendation from this library haul is Stolen, by Lucy Christopher.
If You Find Me: 6/10