I very rarely review young adult books, and any trace of a “dystopian” tag would usually have me running for the hills – but Paradise Girl by Phill Featherstone was the exception to my reading rule, and proof (if it were needed) that it can be good to push your reading barriers from time to time. I’ve already reviewed this wonderful book, back in September: but when I saw it was on tour with Brook Cottage Books, I thought I’d rather like to share my review again. There are some books that really deserve to be shouted about a little…
Kerryl Shaw has always kept a diary, but this one is different because she knows she is going to die.
A highly infectious and incurable virus spreads worldwide. Seventeen-year-old Kerryl lives with her family on a remote farm. They think they will be safe, but the danger advances. One day a stranger arrives, and it soon becomes apparent that he has brought the plague to their door.
Kerryl is sure it’s only a matter of time before she catches the infection and dies, and decides to record what she thinks will be her final days. She realises that her diary will never be read, so she imagines a reader and calls him Adam. Loneliness and isolation affect the balance of her mind. Little by little Adam comes alive to her, and she sets off across the moor to meet him.
Published by Matador in January, here are the buying links:
Alternatively, buy direct from the author and get your copy signed.
Here’s that review again…
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.
And let’s try an extract:
Introductions are boring, but unless I take time to explain things it will be confusing for you. Me first. Not very polite, I know, but it’s probably the best place to start.
My name is Kerryl – or that’s what my family and friends call me. My proper name is Cheryl. Cheryl Alison Shaw. They call me the Paradise Girl. Don’t get excited – it sounds sexy but it’s not. I’m seventeen years old and still a virgin. I’m not a nun, I’ve been out with loads of boys – Tim, Mark (two of them), Nathan, Jake, Tristram, Steve – but I wasn’t that keen on any of them and they didn’t last. The exception was Mark II. He was older than me, fearsomely good looking and he had a nice car. I thought he was really hot. When I wasn’t with him I was thinking about him. But it seems he wasn’t as keen as me, and one day my best friend, Josie, told me that he was going out with Monica Woodbridge and saying I was a frigid cow. It seems everybody knew I’d been dumped and I was the last to find out.
The worst thing was the shock. I thought Monica Woodbridge was my friend. As well as that, all the girls in our group had been going out with the same boys for a long time, but I seemed to keep a boyfriend for only a few weeks. Was there something wrong with me? To be honest, I’m not a great beauty. I don’t mean I’m a train wreck or anything. I’m not bad looking, but I’m not like Charlene Brooker or Suzy Simmonds. They’re electric, both of them. Charlene could be a model, and Suzy’s always surrounded by a gang of drooling boys.
They’re gone now: Charlene, Suzy, Josie, Monica, all of them.
Sorry for the break there. I had to stop to have a little weep. I’ll try not to do too much of that. I suppose I can console myself with one thing: with everyone else dead, I must be the most beautiful girl in the world!
With thanks to Phill and tour organiser Brook Cottage Books, I’m delighted to be able to offer two lucky readers the chance to win signed copies (open internationally). Here’s the rafflecopter for entry:
About the author
Phill Featherstone was born and brought up in the north of England. He trained as a teacher and taught English in comprehensive schools. In the late 1990s he and his wife, Sally, founded a publishing company specialising in education books for the early years. In 2008 the business was acquired by Bloomsbury, after which they moved to Yorkshire. He now spends his time writing, travelling, on the arts and on conservation work. Phill has degrees from Cambridge and Leicester Universities, and is a member of the Society of Authors. Paradise Girl is his third novel, although the first to be published.