Blurb: ‘Are you okay, Mummy? Did Daddy hurt you again?’
Anne Mason’s childhood in Richmond emulates suburban bliss, with a wealthy father and a loving mother. But behind the polished windows, Anne’s father terrorizes her mother, shattering their utopian home life with beatings and beer. Home-schooled on a diet of books and museums, knowledge becomes Anne’s only saviour.
One night her dad comes home with the news that her mother has left them forever. Unable to care for his daughter, Anne is sent to live with her kindly aunt and uncle. Struggling to settle into day school, Anne enrols in Lakeland Boarding School. She meets and falls for gentle Karen, whose friends torment Anne and her troubled roommate Simone.
Forced to confront her traumatic upbringing, Anne learns the horrors of the past and present. Will love, hope, and inner strength prevail?
As an adult, I was surprised how much I had forgotten about the pressures and emotional strain of adolescence, until Anne brought it all flooding back to me.
The story starts with a teen / young adult Anne deciding whether or not to trust her therapist with what is troubling her, then is told in one long flashback of her recount to him. She begins with the traumatic events of her early childhood, and then takes us through the intervening years, detailing how she coped with the family estrangements, new friendships and budding romances.
Zarina Macha covers a wealth of huge and serious issues as Anne’s story unfolds. We start with domestic abuse, child abuse and addiction issues, and move through various mental health issues, self-harm, pressures related to race and sexuality, bullying and ostracism, underage sex, peer pressure, rape and suicidal thoughts. Listing these out makes it seem like this is an extreme story, but sadly that is not the case, and I have seen some of the events Anne describes during my own (relatively sheltered) teen and young adult years, although thankfully not in my own experiences.
One of the ways in which the author firmly roots her novel in the current and the real world is by referring to world events and popular culture. Talk of the Rainbow Fairies series, One Direction, Narnia and Mean Girls mingles with discussion of the Charlie Hebdo attack and Brexit to give a firm sense of the here-and-now. This also brings home how very possible the events in the book are with sobering effect.
Anne handled the events and situations in the story so maturely throughout that she seemed more of an adult than the adults around her, and I was continually surprised by her age in the text. In fact, most of the teenagers felt and acted more like my experience of older teens/young adults, although this could very well be down to the adult experiences they have to survive and process.
Anne is a great story for teens, about serious issues. The peer pressure elements in particular will likely resonate with many, along with the identity exploration. For adults the story is an eye-opening insight (or reminder) of the pressures young people face and how intense and all-consuming they feel. Something worth remembering when we are older and more world-weary.
There were days when I had to call A&E, especially as the years progressed and Dad’s drinking got worse. She always said the same things. She fell in her heels. She tripped. She walked into a lamppost and banged her head. Not once did she say a word against my father or tell anyone what was happening. She was a butterfly trapped in his cocoon.
– Zarina Macha, Anne