Forster tells the story of a girl’s tumultuous life in London in this YA debut.
When a boy at the children’s home offers to take Kathy to meet his friends, she’s just happy to have something to do. Following the deaths of her parents, she was shipped from her village in northern England to London, where the people are icy, and she’s had a difficult time fitting in. She quickly realizes that her new friends constitute a street gang, but she is too lonely to reject their invitation to join them. Their leader, the magnetic, ambitious Gary, holds a particular allure for Kathy: she thinks that he’s like a character out of a novel. Kathy sees herself as a modern-day Becky Sharp, from Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, ingratiating herself with her new social circle: “Her old self was slipping away, but another one, altogether leaner, sharper and more efficient was slowly developing.” Gary sees himself as an underworld CEO, overseeing his many business interests while remaining one step ahead of the law. But his management style becomes brutal, and an atmosphere of fear soon replaces Kathy’s excitement. She thinks increasingly of her past: of the Romany woman who told her of old legends and the Northumberland landscape. She decides she must seek out her grandfather, from whom she was separated after the deaths of her parents. Perhaps she can rebuild something of her old life—if only she’s able to extricate herself from the new one. Forster’s narrative voice is pitched to Kathy’s anxiousness, resulting in a world that is equal parts menacing and romantic. The narrative intersperses the crowded, anonymous language of London with Kathy’s vivid recollections of the Northumberland moors of her previous life: “The heather too burned, but in a different way. It filled the landscape, as far as she could see, with a blazing purple, set off here and there by green bracken.” The tale’s conclusion is predictably Dickensian, and a bit of unexpected religiosity begins to slip in toward the end, but the book keeps the reader invested, curious to see just where Kathy lands.
A well-crafted coming-of-age novel that skillfully chronicles the trials of a lonely orphan who joins a street gang.