Salvage by Keren David review

18066469In the run-up to the announcement of the UK YA Book Prize I’m reading each of the books on the shortlist. For more details about my reading challenge and the shortlist click here.

Before she was adopted by a loving family and raised in a leafy Home Counties town, Cass Montgomery was Cass Jones. Her memories of her birth family disappeared with her name. But when her adopted family starts to break down, a way out comes in the form of a message from her lost brother, Aidan. Having Aidan back in her life is both everything she needs and nothing she expected. Who is this boy who calls himself her brother? And why is he so haunted?

Aidan’s a survivor. He’s survived an abusive stepfather and an uncaring mother. He’s survived crowded foster homes and empty bedsits. He’s survived to find Cass. If only he can make her understand what it means to be part of his family. . .

I was gripped from page one of this compelling tale of two siblings who were separated as young children. Cass and Aidan have lived completely different lives: Cass nurtured and cared for in a ‘perfect’ family in a leafy suburb, with a life of opportunity ahead of her (head-girl material and destined for Oxford), Aidan rejected by his mother, abused by his stepdad, struggling to fit in from one foster family to the next and barely managing to hold down his job in a salvaged goods store. But is Cass really better off? When the story starts, her adoptive family has been left reeling because her Tory MP father has impregnated his young intern and left to make a new home with her (the cad!). Struggling to hold her mother and younger brother Ben together whilst juggling school work and extra-curricular activities, Cass is at her wits’ end. It’s in the midst of all this that she receives a Facebook message from someone who claims to be her brother – and it seems like a chance for both the siblings to salvage something good, true and worth holding onto from the chaos of their lives. (That’s after the ever sensible Cass enlists an amateur detective to help her establish that it is, in fact, her brother and not some cyber-stalker, of course.)

It’s hard to sum this story up because there are so many threads to it. Nothing is black and white, nothing is straightforward about Keren David’s storytelling, and I loved that because really, what in life is? She somehow manages to describe very complicated lives whilst at the same time making it really easy to follow and a captivating read. I liked the way that the repercussions of actions were followed all the way through. Both Cass and Aidan have a pretty simplistic view at the beginning of what meeting each other will mean – they just want to reach out and find their long-lost sibling. But it’s not long before they realise they have opened a can of worms – they’re not just adding one person to their lives, but all the people in that person’s life too, and suddenly their families are growing and growing, with half sisters here and half brothers there, and girlfriends and their family, and step-parents, and ex-step-parents… The idea of a simple/normal family is completely blown out of the water in this book – if such a thing ever did exist.

The POV switches between Cass and Aidan throughout and this gave a realistic view of both sides of the social divide from inside and out. Both characters felt very well-rounded as a result, and the people close to each of them were also well fleshed out. On Cass’s side we have a bit of light relief from all the family drama in the form of the handsome Will (our amateur detective mentioned earlier). He goes to the same private school as Cass’s socially awkward younger brother Ben and has been assigned as Ben’s peer support mentor. He takes rather a shine to Cass and it was very entertaining to read about how he cajoles the reluctant Ice Queen into flirting, and more. He’s cheeky, witty, handsome and seems to have the knack for disarming Cass in spite of herself. He shows himself a true friend to her, too. On Aidan’s side there is his girlfriend Holly and her young son Finn. It was really touching to read about how Aidan strives to be a good member of this little family unit, while also battling with the internal demons that are the legacy of his long and hard years in the social care system. He’s made mistakes in the past but he’s just so determined to be a good boyfriend and stepdad and brother and to lead a good life. There are no single-dimensional characters here – Cass’s dad has cheated on his wife and left her, and has the personality of the worst cloying politician you could imagine, and yet he is still 100 percent committed to being a good father to Cass and Ben, and even manages to reach out and help Aidan in his own way.

A tattoo on the back of Aidan’s neck reads ‘hope’, and I think that sums up the heart of this book: even if your family’s messed up, and you’re messed up, and your past is messed up, there can still be a way to salvage something – as long as you don’t expect everything to ever be perfect, you can find happiness and a way of making your life meaningful.

 

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