I was drawn to the bright cover of this book, but immediately fearful that it might be a dark teenage read about suicide. It most definitely is not the latter, and I should say at the outset that I loved it. I loved the story, I loved the characters and I loved that it made me cry.
The book’s main character is 17 year old Tara, an ordinary young woman with extraordinary artistic ability. Her family background is bleak – there is not just financial poverty but a poverty of spirit, which is not quite explained until near the end of the book. Tara’s mother is emotionally hard, brutal to her daughters, and pretty unlikeable. Her father is bed-ridden by a stroke. Tara and her mother are the main bread-winners and care-givers. Northern Irish immigrants they are making the most of their lot, but sadly leaving the emotional needs of their two daughters unmet.
One of these daughters has already removed herself from this world, and Tara with a robust fascination with Vincent van Gogh finds herself unravelling both van Gogh’s tragic life, and her sister’s short life (conveniently named Van) at the same time.
This book has a theme of death running through it – both self-inflicted and natural – but it never becomes burdensome or heavy to the reader, although it does for Tara who does tackle it head-on.
Tara and her family are utterly believable, and the story that unfolds helps to explain why Tara’s family are paralysed by their own lives. Tara however is a survivor, and she finds support where she needs it, and crucially when she needs it the most.
This is a powerful and emotional story, with characters that felt real, and a resolution that was satisfying and believable, and just unanticipated enough to be a surprise.
Reviewed by Gillian Torckler
by Mandy Hager
Published by Random House
ISBN 9781775533276 (paperback)
ISBN 9781775533283 (e-book)