So begins a bittersweet and sometimes hilarious journey as Solace swaggers and Holly tiptoes across England and through memory, discovering her true self and unlocking the secrets of her past. (Synopsis from Goodreads)
Now, when I was researching possible books for my travel month (I say month, but I realise this month is over-running somewhat. Let's pretend no one else has noticed), I soon cottoned onto the fact that finding a comprehensive list of YA travel fiction was going to be a pretty tough task. But I do not give up easily, oh no. I managed to track down a list of road trip-themed YA on Goodreads (close enough), but was slightly disappointed to find most of these were set in the good old US of A. Not that I have a problem with US road trips. I adore them. I want to do one, one day...*stares off into distance* BUT, I have already covered that particular mini-genre this month with my review of Amy and Roger's Epic Detour. And jolly lovely it was too. Just before I was about to through in the towel, I stumbled across this title a bit further down the chart of road-trips.
Ever since I finished A Monster Calls, I have been very intrigued by Siobhan Dowd's books. They seem to encompass everything I love about contemporary YA - sad but beautiful, as the lovely Jo from Wear The Old Coat would say. Somehow, this one had managed to slip under my radar - a ROAD TRIP but set in my homeland! Perfect. Because we all know travel just doesn't mean frolicking to far flung corners. And their are plenty of folk reading this book who would consider a road (and boat) trip from London to Ireland a far-flung travel.
So where do I start with this. SO MANY, MANY FEELINGS
I won't go into details of Holly's painful childhood, but please don't let the trauma put you off reading this. Yes, there are bleak moments, but this is no way an 'issue based' YA book. I have nothing against YA that tackles the rough stuff. I'm sure many a teenager finds comfort and, well, solace from this type of YA fiction. But sometimes, the characters come second to the issues being tackled.
What I loved so much about this was the fact the Holly Hogan is first and foremost a human being, a teenager, a personality rather than a problem to be laid bare.
The reader is given an access-all-areas pass into her thoughts and feelings. We are told nothing, but shown everything.
Her words are rattling together like the ice-cubes in her see through drinks.
Her journey starts when she discovers a wig tucked at the bottom of a chest of drawers belonging to her foster mother. It triggers a reaction and an impulse to journey to Ireland in search of her estranged mother. Her voice is convincing and powerful throughout. Never once did I NOT believe this was a young teenage girl flitting from emotion to emotion.
The supporting characters are equally well-written. We are given the measure of all of them in just a few lines - foster mother Fiona - 'She was the kind of person who dresses poorer than she is...'. See - bloody genius writing. All of it. My particular favourite was the country music-loving, vegan trucker Phil. Or as Holly says, 'God on the road'.
Why is it so much easier to write about the flaws that I find in a book rather than all the beautiful bits? That is why writing this review has been so difficult - because this book is perfect.
I was Solace the Unstoppable, the smooth-walking, sharp-talking glamour girl, and I was walking into a red sky, ready to hitch a ride. I was crossing the sea and landing in Ireland. The I was walking up a hill to meet my mam, breathing in the morning air by the pint. This is how I thought myself into the sweet, soft day on the other side of the sea where the grass is green. That night and every other night for weeks to come, I traced the road.
After reading that, I don't think I really need to tell you how astonishing the writing is. It makes it all the more sad when I remember that the author is no longer here to write more sad but beautiful words.
It feels a bit flippant to write about bog-standard travel tips in the context of this book. Holly's journey is very much a metaphorical one, so much more so than any other travel fiction I've read in the last few weeks. So, in a break from the norm, I'm going to let Holly describe her own thoughts about MY turf, my little corner of west London -
Shepherds Bush, I knew from my travels with Grace and Trim, was on the tube. It wouldn't be green and lush with sheep and shepherds, it would be roads and fumes. In my head, I was already standing at the start of the motorway and sticking out my thumb.
Roads and fumes, yes. But so much more. Remember, it's also the end of a motorway as well as the beginning of one. So I will end my last travel month review by saying that one of the best things about travelling is coming back home again.