Today I’m sharing my review of Paradise Girl by Phill Featherstone, published by Troubadour in January 2017; you might remember reading the excellent guest post Phill wrote for Being Anne in May, and you can read it again here. Young adult, dystopian… now that really doesn’t sound like one for me, does it? But there was something about this book that drew me, not least Sarah Vincent’s endorsement…
A highly infectious and incurable virus spreads worldwide. Seventeen-year-old Kerryl Shaw and her family live on a remote farm and think they will be safe, but the plague advances. Despite deaths around them, the Shaws survive. However, this changes when a stranger arrives, and it soon becomes apparent he has brought the infection to their door. One by one the family succumbs, leaving Kerryl alone.
Kerryl is sure it’s only a matter of time before she, too, dies. She decides to record what she thinks will be her final days in a diary. She realises that it will never be read, so she imagines a reader and calls him Adam. As loneliness and isolation affect the balance of her mind, Adam ceases to be an imaginary character and becomes real to her.
Communications break down and services fail. Unexplained events build fear and menace: Kerryl hears her name called in the night; she’s attacked by stray animals; she’s molested when she visits the town; she sees a stranger outside her house, who vanishes when she tries to make contact; objects appear and disappear. The climax comes when she finds a text message on her phone. Who is texting her? How? She thinks it can only be Adam, because by now there is no one else left. Another text invites her to a rendezvous at the Bride Stones, a beauty spot popular with lovers, and she leaves for what she is sure will be a meeting with Adam…
“This is such an engrossing read I found it impossible to put down…This is writing of a high literary standard, with the kind of psychological depth which lingers in the mind long after reading.”
– Sarah Vincent, critic and author of The Testament of Vida Tremayne.
The first thing I’d say is don’t be put off by the “young adult” tag – although the clear voice is of a young girl on the cusp of adulthood, there’s absolutely no simplification or dumbing down here, this is a book full of fine writing that would appeal to any adult, even those of advanced years like me. The format is clever – two diaries, one telling the background to the spread of the infection, the other chronicling Kerry’s day-to-day existence when she finds herself alone. The fluidity of her prose is credible – “before”, she was an avid reader, an outstanding student awaiting the results of her Cambridge entrance exams – and her voice is authentically that of a teenage girl, with all the usual quirks, fears and obsessions.
If I say there’s humour here, you might find that strange as the world disintegrates around her – but Kerryl is superbly likeable as you share her thoughts, feelings and reflections, her efforts to apply logic to the unknown and horrific, her effort to survive. There’s a wealth of believable detail about both the before and the during/after. In the former I liked the use of newspaper reports, interviews with government ministers, the hidden websites – and in the latter the domestic detail, the way the electricity had to be kept running on the isolated farm, the care of the animals, the food (or not, as Kerryl continues to try to lose her spare tyre…). The visits to town are vividly described: the collection of loved ones’ ashes, the charging for the urns as civilisation disintegrates, the edge of danger and violence, and – permeating everything – the horrendous smell.
The shift to the slightly surreal – the invention of Adam as reader of the diaries, and what comes thereafter – is exceptionally well done, and the working through of the story to its finely wrought ending is gripping and emotional. I enjoyed the strong sense of place in this book too, the Yorkshire countryside around the hill farm and the Bride Stones vividly described.
Do give this one a try. This is a book that deserves to be read, and which leaves an indelible impression, with images I’ll take with me for some time to come. An excellent read, with a depth and emotional engagement I really never expected.
My thanks to publishers Troubadour and the author for my reading copy.
About the author
Phill Featherstone trained as a teacher before reading English at Cambridge. After working in schools and as a local authority adviser he started and ran an education publishing company. He has co-written several books for teachers. He now writes full-time and lives with his wife in a Pennine farmhouse.