Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Blood Family - M's review

Blood Family by Anne Fine

Reviewed by M

One thing Anne Fine doesn’t do in Blood Family is beat about the bush. This is a story about the lasting and complicated psychological and emotional damage and trauma that domestic violence can induce for both adults and young children. It is also about breaking and making (and even forsaking) families as well as addiction.  

Blood Family by Anne FineSeven year old Eddie has been hidden away with his mother in a filthy apartment for years and is terrified of him (Bryce). Rescued by the police and social services, he seems to have escaped the years of physical violence that have fallen upon his mother. But social services and new foster families know that psychological damage can be deeply hidden and longlasting. The novel explores the effects of this on Eddie and the different coping strategies that he (and others) use right through to his late teenage years.

Blood Family is a grim read – and uncomfortably - it’s compelling even though the subject matter of this novel is not pleasureable. The plot itself is not exciting, gratuitous, glamorous, disneyfied, rose-tinted nor everyday (except of course, it may well be more everyday for more children than I’d like to think, and for me, that’s the point of the novel).

However, multiple point-of-views presented in short spurts keep up the pace and add tension. These views from the different people 'assigned' to give Eddie a new life also help to build up a complex picture of the highly-charged practicalities of the child protection and social care system. A foreboding atmosphere permeates the book. Although terrible, terrible things have happened at the outset, there’s always a sense of danger: will Eddie’s father find him, can we trust his mum, can we trust Eddie, will he fall through the nets? The book blurb alerted me to this and I anticipated a twist. There is one, and for Eddie, it is shattering but it was less so for me, the reader. I did start skipping bits in the last part of the novel.

Despite the grim story, and without giving much of it away, Blood Family does offer up hope and suggests the chance of happiness for abuse and addiction survivors. The focus of the novel is also less about the whys, wherefores and specifics of abuse, and is more upon the lasting effects and the long, painful and painstaking paths of recovery.

Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with any of the characters in the book – I imagine many other readers will. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t cry. My face was probably deadpan and I bet my emotional level was pretty flat the whole way through too – except for the first chapter. In Blood Family, one of the foster parents wails: the system says we must do it this way - but what about Eddie? What about Eddie? Ironic that for me as the reader, the child got a little lost in the issues.

If you can move yourself away from the child abuse issue (which many readers should be able to do), the novel also delves into the realities of addictions and the question of family and identity. How much of your personality is determined by your genes, your blood family? Will you be like them? How much of 'you' can you shape and determine yourself? And who cares about you the most? Is it yourself? Will your blood family love you the most, protect you the most? And if they don’t, can anyone else step in to do it better?

Would I recommend this novel? Holey moley, that’s a tough one. For any adults working with young people or children, yes, I’d recommend it. For anyone thinking about following a career in public services or with young people, yes. Teenagers who simply want to read for pleasure? Only if I knew them very well. Although the first few pages of the novel are the most shocking in its details, the rest of the novel is definitely not for the feint-hearted (nor for those who’ve suffered abuse and may be susceptible to trigger points).

Another novel for teenagers that deals with the aftermath of child abuse is If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch. Its tone is softer and the novel has a melody although the issues and effects are just as harsh and harmful as those explored in Blood Family. Two very contrasting novels. If you can handle the issues, worth exploring these two side by side for a very different reading experience.

Publication details: 2013, Doubleday, London, hardback
This copy: received for review from the publisher

Go and read Little M's interview to find out more about Anne Fine.



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