Gripping, mile-a-minute British debut about selfishness, self-obliteration and one girl’s perseverance.
Daughter of a smack-addled prostitute who raised her in a drug-induced haze of apathy, violence and self-destruction, narrator Kerrie-Ann Shell understands by age five that addiction is an octopus whose tentacles reach far beyond any one junkie. Her neighbor, autodidact entomologist Mrs. Ivanovich, takes an interest in Kerrie-Ann, teaching her about butterflies and life beyond their depressing council estate in Nottingham. Then, without explanation, Mrs. I takes her own life, turning her living room into a human-scale “killing jar,” asphyxiating herself in the noxious fumes. (Years later, Kerrie-Ann realizes that she unwittingly had helped facilitate the suicide.) That’s just the beginning of the bad times. Kerrie-Ann’s grandmother, Mommar, joins the family in a vain attempt to restore order and nurse her daughter back to health after she gives birth to a biracial crack baby, Jon. Mommar goes to the store one afternoon and doesn’t return. From there, things go further downhill for Kerrie-Ann. She’s forced to sell and transport drugs, shoot heroin, watch her mother engage in coitus with “Uncle Frank” and take the fall for them when police raid the estate. At 15, Kerrie-Ann is all grown up, a full-fledged drug dealer and user who has had an abortion. Yet she yearns almost naïvely for something better. She finally summons the courage to leave the estate and permanently extricate herself from Mark, the abusive, doped-up boyfriend she suspects of killing Jon. What could have been just another vapid novel about sex, drugs and violence is rescued by Monaghan’s evident familiarity with the culture she depicts and her gift for nuanced observation.