Advanced reader copy received from the publisher (Cannongate) via NetGalley
Release date (UK): 7th May 2015
“The first time I saw you, you were standing at the far end of the playing field. You were looking down at your brown straggly dog, but then you looked up, your mouth going slack as your eyes clocked her. Alice Taylor.
I was no different. I used to catch myself gazing at the back of her head in class, at her silky fair hair swaying between her shoulder blades.”
Sometimes you have to take a chance on a book. The blurb for this debut is simply the first few paragraphs. It sucked me in straight away, and that’s all I went into the story knowing. The rest of the book proved as refreshing and captivating as those first few lines.
The protagonist of the story is Yasmin, a troubled, overweight fifteen-year-old who is still struggling to cope with the loss of her Dad years before. She has a tense relationship with her step dad and no real friends of her own, so she fixates on the most popular girl in school, Alice Taylor. She collects items that Alice leaves around, she follows her, and she spends her time fantasising about the two of them together, saying “I could probably write a trilogy about eloping with Alice”.
But Yasmin realises she might not be alone in her fixation on Alice. She spots a man at the school gates, who appears to be watching Alice too.
“If you’d glanced just once across the field you’d have seen me standing in the middle on my own, looking straight at you, and you’d have gone back through the trees to the path quick, tugging your dog after you. You’d have known you’d given yourself away, even if only to me.
But you didn’t. You only had eyes for Alice.”
Over time, she concocts an entire fantasy around the man – who we later learn is called Samuel – taking Alice, and becomes convinced that she is the only one who can rescue her.
I had no idea what to expect from this novel, and I think it works best this way. Yasmin’s young voice as the narrator was brilliantly realistic, and her tone was so naive and strangely optimistic it took me a while to realise how dark this book really is. She refers to ‘you’, the man she saw at the gates throughout the book, and she relays events in such a chatty, laid-back manner it took me a minute to realise that I was reading about a potential murderer.
But was I? That’s what’s so clever about this book. It’s clear that Yasmin is a little unstable, and so for the majority of the novel I had no idea whether I was reading about an innocent girl’s involvement with a potential paedophile, or simply the neurotic ramblings and fantasies of a lonely girl who needs help.
Kavanagh keeps the reader guessing up to and beyond the last pages in this novel, with an ending which is both frustratingly ambiguous and quietly brilliant. But at its heart, this book is a character study too, and while I had no idea whether any of her thoughts and actions were right, I couldn’t help but sympathise with Yasmin. Kavanagh captures the fragility of the troubled teen perfectly, and provides a stark but darkly humorous portrayal of loneliness in the form of both Yasmin and Samuel.
This novel is difficult to pinpoint to a genre – the naive narrator could point to young adult, but the dark themes suggest not. It also follows the familiar path of the tried and tested missing-girl plot, but turns this theme so completely on its head that it’s almost unrecognisable. This book’s got dark humour coupled with raw emotion, a classic unreliable narrator and a twisted plot – it’s unique and refreshing, and definitely one of the strongest debuts I’ve read so far this year.