Jesika is four and a half.
She lives in a flat with her mother and baby brother and she knows a lot. She knows their flat is high up and the stairs are smelly. She knows she shouldn’t draw on the peeling wallpaper or touch the broken window. And she knows she loves her mummy and baby brother Toby.
She does not know that their landlord is threatening to evict them and that Toby’s cough is going to get much worse. Or that Paige, her new best friend, has a secret that will explode their world.
“Heart-stopping. A need to read novel.” Kit de Waal, author of My Name is Leon
“A brave, important, heart-breaking book.” Emma Flint, author of Little Deaths
As soon as I saw Home on the Penguin Books’ Facebook page, I was desperate to read it. It’s one of those books that presents you with such a perfectly-realised world view that you literally feel like you’re coming up for air when you have to take a moment away from it.
If you’ve read one of my reviews before, you’ll know that I absolutely detest spoilers so I’m going to try – as one of the very first stops on this tour – to avoid them so that you too can have the unblemished experience of ‘meeting’ Jesika for yourself.
I first saw Home on the Penguin Books Facebook page which made me desperate to read it. How gorgeous was the photo that they added to illustrate their post?
Amanda Berriman might be a debut author, but you’d never imagine this from reading Home. The clarity of voice that Jesika has rings out from every page and – this is the best of all possible book compliments – you actually forget that she is a created character in a novel and feel that she is there speaking to you and asking you to see her world as she sees it.
Most people might be put off by the fact that their narrator is 4 years old – with the obvious limitations that this causes in terms of comprehending what is going on around her and happening to her. I would say that its very restriction is Home’s very strength. It’s like bending down to hear a child speak and just for that moment the child and what they are saying to you becomes everything. Jesika’s voice achieves this for the reader for by narrowing our gaze to hers, we very successfully experience her world as she sees it and feel what she is feeling in a profoundly affecting way.
Jesika’s world is the world that we know is there, but would rather not think about. Today it seems like it’s much easier to make documentaries about sink estates and call it ‘Feral kids go wild’ or something equally damning rather than attempt to see what these children are experiencing from their perspective. Maybe the truth is that sometimes it’s just too difficult. Reading Home felt at times like being dropped into the world we were exposed to in I, Daniel Blake and seeing it from a toddler’s-eye-view. There is something even more horrifying, perhaps in seeing this world through the eyes of an innocent who has no idea that her audience see what she doesn’t and fully realises that not all childhoods need to be like this.
Berriman’s skill as a writer means that our immersion into Jesika’s world is seamless. I have heard several comparisons with Room and I agree that the worlds are equally fully realised but in Home the claustrophobia you feel is not merely physically limited – here in Home the characters are trapped in one place by circumstances and the ‘baddie’ is a little harder to contemplate as what is trapping Jesika and her mum in their lives is the society we have contributed in creating.
I absolutely loved Home and was devastated to close the final page. For the entire day that I was reading Home, I felt that whole experience of ‘doublethink’ where you are at once immersed in a character’s world and at the same time able to see things that they can’t and want to be able to reach into the pages and steer them through – whilst understanding that you simply can’t. This book does contain themes that some readers might find upsetting and although they are dealt with in a subtle and dignified way, the subject of child abuse is a red flag for some readers who should be warned that this novel might be very challenging indeed for them.
I’d like to thank the very lovely Anne Cater for inviting me to kick off this blog tour alongside her and I definitely recommend that you go and check out her #MyLifeInBooks post with Amanda Berriman right after you read this blogpost. It’s ace.
If you get the chance, you should also also take a moment to check out her reading tips in The Daily Express, as she unfailingly recommends a right good read!
If you enjoyed this post, please look out for my fellow bloggers’ Blog Tour stops over the next 10 days, I can’t wait to see what they think
If you liked the sound of Home, click here and you can order yourself a copy – and if you liked it, you could drop a review on Amazon, Goodreads or anywhere else that might help a debut author get some exposure – it really does make the difference!
WRITER ON THE SHELF