- Being Toffee by Sarah Crossan
Crossan, Sarah Being Toffee. Bloomsbury, 2020 [416p] Trade ed. ISBN 9781547603299 $17.99 E-book ed. ISBN 9781547603275 $12.59 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 7-10
In this novel in free verse, Allison flees her London home after her father's abuse escalates, hoping to find refuge with her father's girlfriend, Kelly-Anne, who tried to bring sixteen-year-old Allison along when she left. When Allison arrives in the small Cornish town, however, she finds Kelly-Anne has moved on, and in a desperate move she finds shelter in the home of Marla, an old woman with dementia who mistakes Allison for a childhood friend, Toffee. Hiding when Marla's occasional visitors turn up, Allison guiltily settles into the woman's house and gradually bonds with her in her lucid state as well as when her perception is clouded. Crossan writes with verse that can be effectively jagged as well as compellingly fluid, and Allison is credibly unsaintly: she initially steals repeatedly from Marla, and she foolishly allows an amoral new friend and her cronies into the house with predictably disastrous results. Yet her narration is also poignantly that of a child starved for love, approval, and safety, and the gradual and unsensationalized reveal of her heartbreaking abuse at the hands of her father is effectively folded into the story. The ending is bittersweet but at least hopeful, and readers will be glad to see Allison getting a chance at a better life.