Heather Burnside
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
Don’t judge a book by its cover! Mea culpa and a wonderful piece of advice that I should pay more attention to; this book is just such. I got this book unasked for and thought that, woman writer with a book about a girl brought up in Manchester – definitely not for me. How wrong I was!

Set in Manchester in the 70s-80s within a dysfunctional family; about a young girl with a younger brother that she becomes used to dragging out of trouble. Father is a drunken alcoholic who thinks nothing of beating up his wife if the least thing upsets him. A mother who, though being battered, refuses to leave him and lives on a diet of Valium floating through life on a cloud, and two kids, Adele and Peter, who basically are left to bring themselves up. Grandmother gives some support but the family life is horrendous. The house a slum and the clothes the kids wear worn out and inappropriate. This makes for a difficult life at school as well. Adele wants to get her school exams done, proper grades and off to university. Peter just wants a life of crime, which often leaves Adele having to step in to drag him out of trouble.

The book is in three parts following the breakdown of the family. The first part set in the period 1973-74 sets the scene with the family spiralling downwards and Adele being left more and more to look after the house, while trying to keep out of range of her father’s fists. Peter is starting off on his life of crime by nicking sweets from the corner shop. Adele carries on doing well at school and is considered a ‘swot’ by her friends and teased about it, but she perseveres.

The second part of the book is set a little further on in 79-80 where family life worsens, Dad has lost his job and there is even less money coming in now, He is resentful of Adele carrying on at school and puts pressure on her to leave and get a job, thus bringing in money which he can drink. Adele resits and carries on with her school work working well towards her grades. Peter is stepping up to a more definite level of crime by snatching bags and purses from old women – easy targets. Meanwhile Granny becomes ill but like many did not tell anyone of the pain until too late. Adele feels guilt at not visiting enough when her Gran dies and all this builds up on the pressure she is under, Peter’s move into a life of crime means he finally gets caught after a house he was burgling goes wrong, the owner comes down and catches them and Peter’s partner in crime stabs the man, killing him. Strangely, although nothing to do with the stabbing, Peter only gets 6 months. However this is enough for the father to ban Peter from the family house, so he goes in to a squat where he escalates his criminal activities becoming well known to the police.

The last section of the book is again a few years further on 83-84 which leads to the denouement of the book which I won’t go into in detail. In this section Adele finds studying and looking after the family too much and she has missed out on her grades, can't get to university, so she gets a job as a bookkeeper with a solicitors firm. Doing very well at this she eventually becomes a supervisor and is doing well. Adele gets a flat away from home, her mother withholding the address from her father who wants Adele at home paying in to his pocket. Peter steps up to armed robbery going after security vans picking up cash from banks and businesses gaining 'respect' from the criminal fraternity by carrying and not being afraid to use, guns; but Adele continues to keep in touch with her wee brother. Adele becomes involved with a nice boy and they move in together but when he gets the chance of promotion in his work and a move from Manchester to London, Adele, fearing for her mother, refuses to go, so they split up. In the split up they have a row and Adele loses her temper and finds herself unable to hold back, assaulting her boyfriend; she is shocked by her level of violence and hopes she is not going down the same route as her father. Life in the family house becomes worse and eventually the Dad puts his wife in hospital after a severe beating. This is where the family really starts to break down with Peter and Adele coming together to support each other as usual. As I say, I wont spoil the books ending but it is intense, violent and so realistic.

This book is a superb bit of writing. It is compelling, true to life and written in a way that it is not hard to get into Adele’s head and experience the trials and tribulations of growing up in a violent household. The writing is easy to follow and hard to put down. I completed this book in two sittings and was left a bit drained at the end. It is hard not to feel that the author is bringing in some observational stuff from her own early years, though not necessarily her own family. Anyone who has grown up on a hard council estate will recognise the family, those that haven’t will be horrified and glad that they did not live there!

I don’t often do this but this book is getting 5/5 Mr MRHs for a brilliant piece of writing taking us into the grimy side of life when one is not born with even a wooden spoon in the mouth, never mind silver! Get this book, read it but don’t expect to feel great after it although you will recognise and appreciate the strength of character that Adele has – the last page is very telling, which got me back to re-reading the prologue and understanding it more!

As I said – Don’t judge a book by its cover or its writer!

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