Author: Siobhan Dowd
Publication Date: 10/13/09
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Blurb(GR): Holly’s story will leave a lasting impression on all who travel with her.
Memories of mum are the only thing that make Holly Hogan happy. She hates her foster family with their too-nice ways and their false sympathy. And she hates her life, her stupid school, and the way everyone is always on at her. Then she finds the wig, and everything changes. Wearing the long, flowing blond locks she feels transformed. She’s not Holly anymore, she’s Solace: the girl with the slinkster walk and the supersharp talk. She’s older, more confident—the kind of girl who can walk right out of her humdrum life, hitch to Ireland, and find her mum. The kind of girl who can face the world head-on.
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.
This book is beautifully written, emotionally honest, and kept me riveted through many hot, humid, should-have-been-unbearable walks. I loved so many things about it and I would recommend it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately I think this is just one of those cases of “it’s not you, it’s me.”
This is a very quiet, understated story that is nonetheless powerful. Holly is a “care-babe” – raised in the foster care system in England ever since she and her mam got separated when she was very young and her mam headed back to Ireland, where she was born. Holly eventually finds herself in a group home, where she spends several years gaining a small measure of stability with a couple of older, troublemaking pals and her social worker. Everything starts changing when her social worker announces that he’s leaving for another job and Holly is offered a foster placement with a well-off do-gooders Ray and Fiona. Stifled by her new environment and betrayed by every adult she’s ever counted on, Holly longs to run away to Ireland and find her mam again. When she discovers an ash blond wig in her foster mother’s things, she puts it on and suddenly becomes someone else – Solace. Solace is older, confident, and brave. Solace is a survivor, and she’s ready to head out into the world on her own. So she does.
“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. I was walking up a hill to meet my mam, breathing in the morning air by the pint.”
This book travels the roads of parental abandonment with unflinching honesty. I felt so much for Holly, who reveals just as much when she’s lying to everyone she meets as she does when she’s finally admitting the painful truths to herself. I felt such a mixture of heartbreak and pride for this fourteen year old girl, who has the strength to conjure up an unstoppable slim-slam glamour girl to get herself through, but who understandably has a hard time setting Solace aside and letting her own hurts come to the surface. I think that Siobhan Dowd did such an amazing job of showing how these coping mechanisms, which are so necessary sometimes, can also become our worst enemies.
However, this book did feel a bit too young and rosy-hued for me. While the inner-mom in me was so thankful and relieved when Holly found the help that she needed and avoided getting seriously hurt on the road, the inner realist in me was nay-saying for the entire journey. While I wish that every teenage girl runaway out there would happen upon kind night-nurses, vegan truckers, and sweet LOTR-obsessed biker boys, I think the truth is often far worse.
But, I think that this book was written with a younger audience in mind and I did appreciate its very hopeful message. I think I only have one real criticism: I wish this book had ended about twenty pages sooner. The decision that Holly makes on the boat is momentous enough on its own; ending the story right there would have given this story so much more of a punch. I know that some readers love epilogues (and epilogue-style endings) – they love to see things get wrapped up and find out what happened to this character and that character and so forth. But for me, in general, epilogues seem to only diminish the power of the story itself. I’d much prefer to be left wondering about and imagining my own follow-ups, especially when the ones given are so neat and pretty and unrealistic. Holly’s journey and eventual realizations were more powerful for me on their own.
Perfect Musical Pairing
The Head And The Heart – Rivers and Roads