Reviewed by Frances Churchward.
This is a story about a fourteen year old girl named Ro who lives with her single mother, Bonnie. Bonnie, who appears to be unconcerned about her daughter’s wellbeing, neglects Ro. Bonnie is a hoarder so that the house is filled with paper to the point that it is impossible to use the front door due to the amount of paper stacked behind it. The only room that is not stacked is Ro’s own bedroom which she keeps locked. Bonnie is also a compulsive shopper which presents additional problems as she spends money that the family do not have. Ro is deeply affected by her mother’s hoarding but also feels protective towards her. As a result, Ro feels that she must keep her living conditions secret for fear that, otherwise, Social Services might become involved. Her father has a new family and shows little interest in his daughter. Ro is a lonely girl who mostly avoids contact with others, especially her peers. Things start to improve when a new family moves in next door with a son of the same age as Ro and with problems of their own and, also, when Ro is befriended by a classmate who has been absent from school for a considerable period. Further, Ro discovers that she has a talent which, up to this point, she has scarcely heeded.
This novel started well and I was intrigued by the idea of the central character being a girl in her early teens living with a parent who has mental disorders and thus is unable to assume the parenting role. Unfortunately, the plot has been written to a somewhat tired formula so that, when life starts to improve for Ro yet the reader is only half way through the story, we know that it is all about to go sharply downhill. This is exactly what happens with disaster following disaster until Ro is left in an even worse position than she was at the start of the novel. The seasoned reader also knows that, when things have reached rock bottom, the only way is up and, by the end of the story. Ro is enjoying great improvements to her life.
At the point where everything started to go badly wrong, I found that I had completely lost any earlier enthusiasm that I had and I skimmed through the “bad times”.
Overall, I experienced a sense of disappointment about this book as I considered that the author had found an interesting and unusual situation to explore but largely squandered this advantage by opting for the predictable. Ultimately the story could almost have been about any disadvantaged child rather than about one struggling to cope with a very specific living situation and who, due to her mother’s mental health problems, has had to take on the role of being the adult in the household.
However, the book does have some merits and, if you want a quick read that doesn’t place too much of a strain upon the brain, you would probably get some enjoyment from this book.
Published by David Fickling Books. Available from good bookshops including October Books in Portswood, Southampton.