[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley. ]
This started as a bit of an annoying read, due to the ‘child voice’ narrating it—it wasn’t so easy for me to get into it. Jesika is a difficult narrator to contend with, in that, on top of being unreliable because she sees the world through her own filters, those filters are very much naïve and different from an adult’s. The way she perceives and interprets events wasn’t always easy to follow, and the fact that the words she used weren’t necessarily the right ones didn’t help. However, after the first couple of chapters, I got used to her voice, and I didn’t notice its ‘quirks’ anymore, or at least not in a way that disrupted my reading. Which was, of course, a good thing.
The story itself deals with difficult themes, too, that aren’t completely visible at first due to the aforementioned filters. But don’t mistake those for callousness: because Jesika seems ‘remote’, this actually makes events more… raw, in a way, in the absence of adult filtering. The reader soon gets to realise the issues Jesika’s family is facing: poverty… but not enough to really get help; having to contend with shady people; illness, probably due to their dire living conditions; and, of course, what comes later, once Jesika meets Paige and starts to wonder if what’s happening at her home is normal or naughty, and if she should tell her mother Tina, and won’t her mother stop loving her if she does that? (And that’s the biggest fear for her child: being rejected by their parents…)
Although the novel never veers into sordid (I don’t want to say that Jesika’s narration revealed Paige’s secret in a ‘cute’ way, because it’s not cute, it’s never cute, it’s creepy AF and no child, well actually no one, should ever have to go through that—but it did soften the blows in a certain way), it wasn’t exactly an easy read. Jesika and Paige are both so very young and vulnerable, all the more when one remembers that getting through the regular babble of children at such a young age can be exhausting, and doesn’t leave much room for actually listening, really listening to them when they try to convey something serious. I did enjoy the grown-ups’ reactions around Jesika, though, since they did take things seriously. There was a particular moment, for instance, when Tina could’ve done the coward thing, could’ve chosen to ignore the signals, because acknowledging them sort of put her at risk, too. There are so many stories, so many happening in real life, too, when unfortunately people close their eyes on the obvious and choose the easy way out.
At the same time, the circumstances Jesika, her mother and her baby brother have to face aren’t all in shades of black only. There are people around who’re ready to help them, and once Tina manages to get past her pride and accept those outstretched hands, she realises that friendship and trust are things you can find even when everything looks bleak. There could have been darker consequences, and in fact, it’s good there weren’t, considering the story’s themes are already dark enough as it is.
Conclusion: 3.5 / 4 stars.