- We Come Apart by Brian Conaghan
ISBN 978-1-68119-275-8 $17.99
Reviewed from galleys M Gr. 7–10
This verse novel in two voices features Jess, a British girl with a troubled home life who is acting out by shoplifting and cultivating a bad attitude, and Nicu, a fifteen-year-old temporary immigrant whose Roma family has moved to England to earn enough money to pay for a bride for Nicu back home. After both are caught shoplifting, they are required to participate in a “reparation scheme” for youthful offenders; Nicu, deciding that Jess is the perfect girl for him, presses his suit and Jess cautiously responds, aware of the intense anti-immigrant sentiment of her friends. In fact, her friends and their parents, including Jesss abusive stepfather, are to a person exaggerated post-Brexit-vote bigots, giving the characterization a programmatic, agenda-driven feel, and the escalation of the bullying is swift and unexpectedly violent, resulting in a rushed climax with an ending that combines uncertainty with maudlin, misguided heroics. While the aim of this book is clearly to inspire empathy for the plights of both Jess and Nicu, their situations are exaggerated to the point of incredulity, and the poetry falls somewhere between indifferent and bad. Nicu’s emergent English in particular is ridiculously caricatured, especially given that the reported speech of his parents is perfect; however, his phrasing does result in some poignant declarations about both teens’ “big strugglings” with their “ass pain” families. While the Brexit vote gives this story currency, readers who want to experience a more nuanced, credible, and carefully crafted vision of the British immigration experience would do better with Crossan’s earlier verse novel, The Weight of Water (BCCB 9/13).