A young British mother must overcome an abusive relationship and other adversities in Francis’ debut novel.
Lauren is born into a working-class family along with her twin, Lorna. The two are different from the start: Lauren fights bullies while Lorna stays quiet; Lauren has adventures while Lorna plays it safe. Their relationship becomes further strained after a park manager molests Lauren; she copes by withdrawing into herself, while Lorna leads a bustling social life. As a teenager, Lauren begins a halfhearted relationship with a schoolmate nicknamed Zitty. The two become engaged, and Lauren’s college plans are soon dashed when she becomes pregnant. She gives birth to four more children (one of whom dies from spina bifida), and Zitty becomes a violent alcoholic. Lauren eventually leaves him in a sequence tinged with danger—she hides all the knives in the house before he’s served divorce papers—and she begins life anew as a young single mother of four. She gets an education, opens a hair salon, marries and divorces a man almost as cruel as Zitty, and grieves the loss of both parents from cancer. Lauren’s love for her children is her driving force, and it’s also one of the book’s most moving elements. Details and dialogue, however, are scarce to a degree that would be more appropriate for a memoir than a novel; for example, a few major incidents, such as Lauren’s reluctant engagement to Zitty, are mentioned only in passing. Readers may finish the book still craving in-depth looks at some of Lauren’s relationships. For example, her interactions with Lorna seem especially fraught, but the book’s reliance on summary results in a lack of depth. In one scene, Lorna starts crying because of her fertility issues and Lauren rebukes her, but the author relates this bombshell situation with paraphrased dialogue. Still, despite these flaws, one can’t help but root for Francis’ protagonist as she struggles and triumphs over an abundance of obstacles.
An often compelling story, marred by underdeveloped character relationships and an overreliance on summary.