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This was an interesting one to review – it tackles a subject close to my heart, and is by an author whose novels I have enjoyed, but with whom I don’t always agree. Her public reaction to Melvin Burgess’s Doing It being a case in point – the golden rule is don’t criticise a novel if you haven’t actually read the whole thing! So I was intrigued to know how she would deal with the subject of adoption, which is often surrounded by myths and misunderstandings. And I was pleasantly surprised.

When a nosey neighbour sees little Eddie peering out of the window, a child that shouldn’t be there, she calls Social Services and before long Eddie and his mother are rescued from the hands of brutal Harris. But his mother has been beaten once too often, and is broken and damaged beyond repair, incapable of looking after her four-year-old son. So Eddie is placed in foster care, and eventually adopted by a couple who have already adopted an older girl. Eddie initially thrives, but unbeknown to his new family, he is haunted by the fear that he will turn out just like Harris. And as he hits his teenage years, this fear leads him to discover alcohol, and he starts a spiral descent into his own worst nightmare. Will he be saved for a second time, and is nature more powerful than nurture?

The story is told from various perspectives, and Eddie’s voice in particular is powerful and poignant. Anne Fine succeeds in capturing both the adolescent turmoil of a typical boy and the added dimension of adoption – the fear of the past and the future, a sense of not truly belonging, and confusion over identity. Other voices however fare less well, and the adoptive parents in particular come across as well-meaning but inadequate, not realising why Eddie is in trouble or indeed that his situation is becoming so desperate. Eddie’s biological mother is also denied a voice of her own, and seen only through the eyes of those who pity or despise her – a missed opportunity really to examine the complex situation of women surviving domestic violence. The social worker is also a little clueless. In all, I woudl say the younger characters are depicted well but the adults tend to be stereotyped and rather more one-dimensional, so the analysis of the issues involved is limited.

However, this is a moving story, and introduces some of the complexity of adoption to readers who may never have thought about it or realised that it is not necessarily a “happy ending”. It’s a strong Young Adult novel that will appeal to teenagers. I kind of wanted to get cross with Anne Fine but in the end I didn’t – she’s not done a bad job here at all. And nature vs nurture? There aren’t any easy answers. Rating: ***

Doubleday, 2013, ISBN 9780857532404

 

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