Review: A Brighter Fear by Kerry Drewery

By | May 19, 2016

A beautiful love story and contemporary fairytale set against the backdrop of the Iraq war, this stunning and moving novel will break your heart, only to put it back together again…

This is the story of Lina, a teenage girl from Baghdad. It starts in 2003, as the bombs begin to fall on the city.

In it, Lina fights to survive, to find a life for herself amid the chaos of war, to find what happened to her mother in the years before the war, when she was taken away by the secret police. She also falls in love, with the one person she should never have fallen in love with.

It is many things. It is a love story, both for a country and for a person. It is about an amazing girl, growing up in the worst circumstances imaginable. It contains a necklace, that was lost but might still be found. And that is all we can say, without ruining this extraordinary and beautiful modern fairy tale…

It’s not always easy running a book club. I’ve recently taken on my local U3A group – a group of readers with very diverse tastes. But I’m gradually working at weaning them off the classics – diverting them from wanting to try Huckleberry Finn yesterday was a particular challenge – and we’re reading Rebecca Mascull’s Song Of the Sea Maid next month, Just What Kind Of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly the month after (phew!).

But this month they decided they’d really like to try something “Young Adult” – there was, of course, no such thing when we were young – so I did a bit of research and headed off to the library with my list to see what book they could offer twelve copies of. 

I’ll admit that two books were top of my list – Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree and Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis, both recent prize winners – but the library couldn’t provide enough copies. My remaining list included books by Sally Nicholls, Sally Gardner, Jenny Downham, Patrick Ness and more… and it was pure chance that the book we finally agreed on was A Brighter Fear by Kerry Drewery. But I’m so very glad we did – I read it on Monday in a single sitting, and have to say that I thought it was absolutely wonderful. And the book club loved it too.

I was surprised how harrowing it was in parts – not in any way a criticism, just an observation – a no holds barred portrayal of Baghdad at the beginning of the Iraq war seen through the eyes of Christian teenager Lina. Her school years are drawing to an end, and she has dreams of university and becoming an architect – dreams that are now threatened by the world around her falling apart. 

The way the author draws the reader into Lina’s world is quite exceptional, The scenes where she huddles in the cellar during the bombardment of Baghdad are so very real, and the way in which she describes Lina’s thoughts and feelings – her numbness when faced with tragedy, the strength of teenage friendship, her reasoning around the major dilemma she has to handle – is excellent. In some ways Lina is a typical teenager – the tragedy is seeing her time of freedom as a teenager taken away. 

And the parallel story of Lina’s mother is so well handled – short interventions capturing the full horror of her experience. There were other aspects I’d never considered – the perverse effects of the intervention on religious tolerance and the relative freedoms of women. The book’s ending is heart-breaking, but with a faint glimmer of hope – at a personal level, sadly not for the future of Iraq.

Anyone who perhaps feels that young adult writing lacks the depth or emotional impact of adult writing should read this book. As should anyone seeking to understand the impact of war on the innocent people caught up in it. This was an exceptional book that I’m so glad I experienced. Do give it a try.

My reading copy of A Brighter Fear was borrowed from the library. I also very much enjoyed reading an article on Kerry’s website on Iraq, the book, the people and the conflict – you might too.

Meet the author (with thanks to Goodreads)

Kerry Drewery lives in Lincolnshire between the countryside and the sea. She has a first class honours degree in Professional Writing, has worked for BookStart, and been a finalist in a BBC Scriptwriting for children competition. She’s a proud member of Author Allsorts and The Prime Writers.

Apart from the sensible stuff, Kerry likes to run, bike and swim, and has previously spent 12 hours running over the Humber Bridge again and again… She also swims in lakes in winter in a bikini. In June she’ll be taking part in a 24hr open water swim in Lincoln where she’ll be raising funds for Book Aid International. 

A Brighter Fear was shortlisted for the Leeds Book Awards. A Dream of Lights was shortlisted for the Hampshire Independent Schools Books Award, awarded Highly Commended at the North East Teen Book Awards and nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal. Her new novel Cell 7 – where a sinister reality TV show has replaced the justice system – is out in September 2016.

She is also the co-coordinator of the UKYA Extravaganza events with author Emma Pass which bring readers, authors and bloggers together to celebrate UKYA talent.

Follow Kerry on Twitter or through her Facebook author page: she also has an excellent website.