Blood Family by Anne Fine
|Blood Family by Anne Fine
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy
|Summary: Powerful story about surviving abuse - including the well-meaning but bureaucratic interventions by social services - written with clear sight, understanding and elegance. Five stars, and then some.
|Date: July 2013
|External links: Author's website
Shortlisted for the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal
Blood Family is the companion novel to Anne Fine's The Devil Walks. Both books feature a boy locked away from the world and what happens when he is rescued. The Devil Walks is a Gothic shiver tale, set in the past but Blood Family is a contemporary story, exploring what happens to children who have been abused and how their lives are affected.
I absolutely loved it. It's written with clear sight, understanding and elegance. It's so subtle in its development.
We begin with a barnstorming scene in which Edward is rescued from the filthy flat he shares with his mother and Harris, her violent, alcoholic father. Edward has adopted his usual position - sliding down the wall, he crouches in as small a huddle as he can manage and doesn't look at anyone or anything except through a gap in his fringe. A gap he cut himself, specifically for the purpose of observing without being noticed. He's less likely to set off Harris that way. It's an horrific and heartbreaking scene.
Then we follow this poor boy as he makes his way through the intervention process by social services. This involves endless questions even though answers are the last things Eddie wants to give. And it involves a myriad of guidelines and people who follow them slavishly. As Eddie's first fother mother, Linda, notes with frustration, it's such BOLLOCKS. Of course, it's all well-meaning, but bureacracy and damaged children make uncomfortable bedfellows. But Eddie does much better than anyone expected. He's bright, for starters. And it seems he's been helped by a series of children's videos featuring a kindly presenter he and his mother managed to hide from Harris and watch over and over. Mr Perkins' advice on everything from cleaning your teeth to a visit to the zoo stands Edward in good stead for a life away from Harris. In fact, everyone thinks he is ready for a normal life and he's soon adopted by Nicholas and Natasha.
You might breathe a sigh of relief or even believe in miracles. It is possible to have such a blighted start to life and turn out almost unscathed. But Fine doesn't let you - or Edward - off the hook that easily. A chance school visit years later sets off all of Edward's dormant demons. If Harris was his real father, is there a genetic devil inside Edward just waiting to break out? And,heartbreakingly, all the progress he has made begins to unravel.
Blood Family covers the age-old debate between nature and nurture. It asks if our past can ever be banished. It's about guilt, grief, and anger. But it's also about redemption. It's beautifully, carefully, written. And it feels very, very truthful. I believed every single word - from the degradation of Edward's early life, through the biddable but disassociated child in the early aftermath and the often crass actions of social services, right to the inevitable breakdown in Edward's adolescence. It's the best story in the kitchen sink style I've read in a long time. And I think it'll win prizes.
Other books that tackle the lifelong struggle faced by children who were abused include Nicholas Dane by Melvin Burgess, which riffs on Oliver Twist, and Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd, which features a heartbreaking road trip and combines pathos with humour.
You can read more book reviews or buy Blood Family by Anne Fine at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Blood Family by Anne Fine at Amazon.com.
Blood Family by Anne Fine is in the Top Ten Teen Books of 2013.
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