Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe

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Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Stephen Leach
Reviewed by Stephen Leach
Summary: An emotionally complex and subversive novel about a father struggling to understand his mentally-ill teenage daughter. Ideal for older teenagers and adults but not one for younger readers.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Corsair
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1472152152

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After seventeen year-old Vera's mental breakdown, her father Lucas takes her on a trip to the tiny Lithuanian town of Vilnius to recover and reconnect with their family history.

One of the more interesting developments in fiction – particularly young-adult fiction – is the popularity of stories with multiple points of view. Plots that flit from one first-person narrator to another are everywhere in YA, while even books with third-person narration tend to skip between various different characters. While it's easy to see how doing this encourages discussion, particularly amongst younger readers ("I liked George's chapters the most!" "No, Julia was the most interesting narrator!"), in this case, at least, it's used to show how crucial perspectives and misunderstandings can be.

In this case, interspersed with Lucas' narration are a series of emails written by his daughter Vera to her boyfriend, Fang, shedding light on her complex mental state. It's this that really makes the novel interesting, transforming it from a series of diary entries to an interplay between Lucas and Vera. Her chapters show how little he understands her, while his perspective shows that despite it all he really is trying, even if he doesn't quite know how.

It's difficult to form an opinion on either of them based on their side of the story alone. Lucas is sympathetic enough, but it's tinged with a sense of ineptness. As we learn more about him, and the history between him and Vera's mother, it's hard to shake the feeling that he is, to put it frankly, a bit of a loser. And yet it's quite hard to feel any negativity for him because of his desperate desire to help his daughter.

An interesting point to note is the fact that we don't actually get to know Fang very well at all – while Vera lets slip the odd bit here and there in her emails, he is essentially a blank canvas: a wall for her to shout at. I wondered how much this was intentional. Vera is hard to pin down: at first she comes off as abrasive, difficult, distant. Once we learn what's making her tick, however, you might find your opinion of her starting to thaw. One of the other things I liked about Dear Fang, With Love was the setting. It would have been fine to have set the book in present-day America, but Thorpe's decision to anchor the story in Vilnius provides another facet to the tale, providing an absorbing, engaging look into a culture a lot of people know very little about. I have to admit I'd never heard of the place before, but enjoyed learning about it through this story.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Dear Fang, With Love much more than I was expecting to. It's a very different and very real look at what it means to be close to someone struggling with their mental health; refreshingly, nothing is glamorised. Vera loses her hair, gains weight, and breaks out in hives and spots as a consequence of her medication. Near the end of the novel, she expresses her fear that her condition will make her like the people she has seen: aimless, broken, and unable to hold a job or have any sort of a meaningful life. It's extremely near the knuckle. I've never been one for content warnings, particularly when it comes to fiction, but can safely say this book came the closest to changing my mind.

With that in mind, you might come away from this review thinking that it all sounds extremely gloomy, but somehow it manages not to be. Through a sprinkling of humour and the positivity of the two narrators, Dear Fang manages to be a transfixing and rewarding read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag for review. We also have a review of Thorpe's The Girls from Corona Del Mar.

For further reading, those who enjoy emotionally-charged YA may enjoy Jeff Zentner's The Serpent King, while the theme of mental health is also tackled in Panther by David Owen.

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Buy Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe at


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