*I received a NetGalley copy of this book from the publisher.*
How can I hold myself together, when everything around me is falling apart?
Neena’s always been a good girl – great grades, parent-approved friends and absolutely no boyfriends. But ever since her brother Akash left her, she’s been slowly falling apart – and uncovering a new version of herself who is freer, but altogether more dangerous.
As her wild behaviour spirals more and more out of control, Neena’s grip on her sanity begins to weaken too. And when her parents announce not one but two life-changing bombshells, she finally reaches breaking point.
But as Neena is about to discover, when your life falls apart, only love can piece you back together.
This story of Neena Gill’s descent into psychosis as she shatters in the aftermath of the disappearance of her brother is beautifully written, and simply oozes with atmosphere. Neena is a sympathetic, totally relatable main character, and her chafing against her parents’ strict rules is really wonderfully drawn. Neena’s world is changing faster than she can cope with, and as she tries to deal with the loss of her brother and the changes wrought by that loss, as well as normal teenage upheavals and the difficulty of dealing with adolescence, it all gets to be too much for her. Thrown in on top of this, Neena tries to solve the mystery of her brother’s disappearance, working with her brother’s girlfriend, and is trying to do it all while her parents insist that she stay in and study for her upcoming GCSEs. With everything going on, it’s no wonder that cracks start to appear, and Neena fractures into a million pieces.
I requested this book because I saw it compared to Emily Barr, Jennifer Niven, and Nicola Yoon, all of whom I have read and enjoyed. And yes, I can totally see why these comparisons have been made. The characterisation is finely drawn, the understanding of the author is visible in every word, and the depiction of mental illness, the causes, triggers, and impacts is beautifully portrayed.
That’s why I found it quite odd that I actually didn’t really like this book. Having given it the benefit of a few weeks’ thought, I think this is a lot more to do with me than it is to do with the book. I don’t think I was in the right mindset to read this, and if I read it at a different time, I would probably have liked it a lot more. Emma Smith-Barton clearly has skill, empathy, and a great grasp on characterisation, as well as a nuanced understanding of the unreliable narrator. Her debut is a finely wrought example which navigates lines of identity, heritage, mental health, family, siblings, adolescence and much more with depth, nuance, and deep, sympathetic understanding. If I had an actual complaint or criticism of the book, beyond ‘this didn’t work for me’, I think it would be that Neena’s relationship with her friend, who was so forgettable that I actually can’t pull her name at the moment, needed more. She was a hugely important part of Neena’s life, and played a pivotal role in the denouement, but very little page space was dedicated to her. I would have liked to see more of that.
Overall, though, this was a book with a lot of depth and promise to it. The combination of examining mental health and a British Pakistani main character was a really interesting one that I hadn’t seen before – definitely something to advocate for. Loads of potential here, and although it didn’t quite hit the spot for me, I’m 100% sure that many people will absolutely adore this.