Author: Sarah Crossan
Genre: YA, Free-Verse, Contemporary
Format: Paperback, 383 pages
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Summary (from Goodreads):
‘They think I hurt someone.
But I didn’t. You hear?
Coz people are gonna be telling you
all kinds of lies.
I need you to know the truth.’
From one-time winner and two-time Carnegie Medal shortlisted author Sarah Crossan, this poignant, stirring, huge-hearted novel asks big questions. What value do you place on life? What can you forgive? And just how do you say goodbye?
I picked this up at the library a couple of days ago and finished it in about an hour. A quick summary: Joe Moon’s brother Ed is on death row, and this could be their final summer together.
One thing that strikes me about both books of Crossan’s that I’ve read is just how good she is at writing free-verse. Despite the lack of words she has to play with, her novels are brilliantly paced, and somehow she always manages to set the scene in like two single lines.
Her characters are set up in a similarly brief way; the narrator (for the most part) gives maybe a line of description, and the rest of their characterisation comes from how they speak, how they act. It’s minimal, but it works so well.
Joe, as a protagonist, might not be the most relatable character, but I enjoyed reading his voice. You can definitely sympathise with him the whole way through, and this is one of those books that reminds you – don’t, do not, judge people until you know the full extent of their circumstances.
Don’t trust other people’s opinions of them. Don’t trust the media’s depictions of people. All these people stay away from Joe and his family because oh, his brother killed a man – did they think to question this? We see it all the time, people being wrongfully imprisoned, wrongfully charged, and yet we still believe it every time we see someone convicted on TV.
A scene that’s stuck in my mind is Joe’s teacher accusing him of not putting in the effort to attend a summer school programme – obviously we know he’s not because he’s spending the summer with his brother who’s on freakin’ death row, but his teacher doesn’t. Nope, the teacher doesn’t bother to see if there’s anything going on at home – he just writes him off as lazy.
Speaking of home – Crossan writes familial issues really well too. The relationships between all characters in the book are complex, and she does well not to let them fall into 2-dimensional stereotypes such as “evil aunt”, giving everyone the two sides they deserve.
Obviously I kind of have to talk about Ed in this review, though I think doing so might set me off crying again. Everything he goes through just breaks my heart, and the last time he gets to see his family, when it’s all still touch-and-go as to whether he’ll get off or not? That entire scene kills me. When the door shuts, and he’s howling his sibling’s names? Jesus, Crossan. That shit hurts.
The letters too. My God, I don’t remember the last time I cried this hard reading a book because I was genuinely sad and not just hormonal (i.e. To Kill a Mockingbird. I did not cry at the bit you’d expect.) Crossan is possibly one of the most beautifully poetic authors I’ve ever come across, even when she’s writing in Ed’s voice which clearly isn’t all that poetic.
At it’s heart, this is a novel about hope. The through-line for the entire plot revolves around the crossing hopes and dreams of Joe, and Nell, and Ed, and everyone else. It’s a book that keeps giving us hope that Ed will get off, just little tidbits.
It’s a book that teaches us to get through even the darkest times.
I’m not such a fan of the romantic subplot, but that could be because the other Crossan book I read (We Come Apart, co-written with Brian Conaghan) starts out with a friendship that this book seemed to lack. It wasn’t insta-love, not by a long shot, but I would’ve liked it to be a slower build (or just, yanno, remain as a friendship.) But, this is minor, so I’m only knocking off half a star.
This review feels more ramble-y than normal, but honestly I’m not sure I can write anything more cohesive without spoiling the entire thing 😅 Honestly, just go read it for yourselves.
Lots of love,