British teenager learns about acceptance, otherness and hope.
Beale sets her seriocomic first novel in East Yorkshire during the 1970s. Thirteen-year-old Jesse’s bipolar mother Evelyn attempts suicide, then spends time in the local mental hospital. Jesse pretends her mother has gone away on a cruise; when the truth emerges, she’s mocked by her classmates. In search of a fresh start, her ineffectual father moves the family to the village of Midham, where Jesse is astonished to be taken up by mean girl Tracey, who enjoys abusing the other pupils at Liston Comprehensive. When Jesse strikes up a friendship with fellow bookworm Malcolm, Tracey scornfully informs her that he’s “the biggest bloody poofter in all Yorkshire.” Jesse, guiltily enamored of Tracey’s older sister Amanda and desperate to appear normal, doesn’t defend Malcolm at first. Her turning point comes when she finally stands up for him and in the process exposes her feelings for Amanda. A personal crisis follows, but Jesse comes through, assisted by friends, family, a role model at school and the promise of the future. A streak of farcical humor leavens the overlong, repetitive text, which heavily underscores its less-than-revelatory themes: the consequences of mental illness, the need to be true to your own nature, the damage done to children who must parent helpless adults.
Obvious messages painted with very broad brushstrokes make this earnest coming-of-age tale most suitable for unsophisticated young-adult readers.