It’s lovely when you discover a new book by accident rather than hype. In this case, Tracey is a regular customer with excellent taste in YA novels. And has written one I have proudly added to our shelves – and so should you!
Set in the very near future, England is a place of totalitarianism and suspicion. It is ruled by The Party, a far-right version of the worst of any right-leaning existing political groups, who have clamped down on anyone not ‘BB’ (British Born). There is an underlying atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust in every area of life from school to work, on public transport and online.
Think Nineteen Eighty Four with teenagers. But much more believable. And terrifying.
There’s Ash, a teen obsessed with calculating the passage of time in seconds, mourning the unexpected death of his sister Sophie. And Zara, homeschooled and under the radar, never without her copies of The Four Quartets and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Their paths cross during a blackout on the Underground in Camden but their stories are already linked via Ash’s sister Sophie. A chance meeting, a tragic death, dangerous secrets, unknowing betrayal all conflate for this potentially doomed couple. Yes, it’s a love story which nicely lightens the oppressive political tension. The romance is slowly built up, contrasting with a few fast-paced ‘cat and mouse’ sequences with real tension and peril. The teenage protagonists are likeable and believable; they are neither idealised or outrageously flawed. Similarly, parents are both flawed and heroic. (I particularly liked Ash’s dad’s flash new car always referred to as ‘The Mid-Life Crisis’)
What is Zara’s secret? How will Ash react? What happened to Sophie on the night of the party? Will The Party find them?
This is certainly a novel for now, for a society which fears the ‘other’ and seeks to close borders rather than welcome other human beings into a civilised, humane society. At times, the story felt too real; the draconian regime was personal and very, very menacing.
(As an aside, I particularly liked the tying in of Eliot’s The Four Quartets, both his magnificent, mysterious poetry and the setting of Little Gidding. Ironic that we often think of Eliot as a very ‘English’ establishment poet, yet he was an American immigrant, ‘taking’ a respectable publishing job from a BB. My MA thesis was based around 4Q, yet I still cannot say I understand these epic poems; well done to Zara for making some sense of them!)
An excellent read for anyone over the age of, say, twelve; it’s certainly not ‘just’ a YA novel.
Read it – that’s The Party line.
Thanks to Scholastic, and to Tracey for a signed, hand delivered copy (and, of course, for writing this story). Looking forward to more YA chats at Waterstones Finchley Road O2…