‘Worry is like a rocking chair, it never gets you anywhere but it gives you something to do.’
My task this bank holiday weekend was to get through 3 books by 3 lovely authors and I couldn’t have picked a better start. Kate Mallinder’s debut novel about 4 teenagers and their post GCSE summer holidays is the perfect book for the teen girl in your life. It covers so many themes with skill and sensitivity and even though they are serious issues, the book is full of joy and hope.
The story is from 4 different points of view. So don’t let anyone tell you that multiple narratives don’t work, in Kate’s hands they simply do. 4 girls, Hetal, Sasha, Cam, and Nell (my favourite character) inspired by Hetal’s Nani, decide to have a summer where they face their fears and just do things that normally they would avoid. For Hetal, that’s leaving behind her beloved Devon and going to Science Camp. In Sasha’s case. she flies off to Geneva to spend the summer with her Dad. For Cam, she is searching for her ‘real’ family and, finally, for Nell, it’s about overcoming stifling anxiety and doing something new. Needless to say, the issues they find themselves all facing are things our teens are facing every day but not all teens have each other like these girls.
Why is Nell my favourite character? I suppose she is the one I recognise the most. Anxiety hits all of us in different ways and like most writers, mine is that of self doubt that I am good at anything. For Nell, she is constantly trying to escape a disaster that has left her an amputee and which she has never truly faced. When she was stood outside the local deli, trying to decide whether to walk in and ask for a job, I felt her sense of self worth disappear as she couldn’t do it. But there’s so much to Nell’s story, not just the anxiety but her gentle recovery and her mother’s recovery too that really makes your heart sing (or your eyes fill with tears, as mine did in the local coffee shop where I was reading!).
There is so much for any teenage girl to empathise with in here. Arguments with parents, frustrations at split families, those first tentative moments forming relationships with boys, the desire to be an adult but still need the safety and support of family. A message for all teens I think: family are trying to do their best and parents make mistakes, big ones! However, they are still there, if you let them. It’s not just the girls that grow throughout the text but the adults do too and forgiveness and kindness comes from the most unusual of places.
As for place, Kingsbridge in Devon is a mere 20 miles or so from me. There were so many places I recognised in Kate’s beautiful description but you won’t need to have been there to feel the warmth of the summer and the rain that falls as worlds fall apart. It was so good to read about girls sailing boats out of the estuary and over to Salcombe. More girls should learn to sail in my opinion (I might be biased here!).
Ultimately this is a tale of redemption and hope. I read it in a morning, as the text is so carefully woven together and you really want the girls to succeed or overcome their different challenges. Perhaps when some teen texts are so over sexualised and dismal, this is the perfect antidote. It’s full of fun, laced with a dose of reality and a fine story. Thoroughly engaging.
Who should read this book?
This is the perfect book for a 13+ girl to get her hands on. They will find at least one of their friends or themselves inside it’s cover and we need a bit more of that for young readers. In terms of how you could put this to use in the classroom, for cross curricular work, there’s some PHSE lessons in here about family and mental health. In English, I think there could be some great discussions about gender and if you happen to be teaching English Language A-level, a look at gendered language would be a very interesting exercise.
A stunning debut novel.