Guilt Trip by Anne Cassidy

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Guilt Trip by Anne Cassidy

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ceri Padley
Reviewed by Ceri Padley
Summary: Anne Cassidy's novel about a group of friends, struggling to deal with the consequences of their dangerous actions, is haunting, poignant, and, at times, chilling. The tale of how four teenagers quickly cope with a series of frightening events in a very adult world is an important and touching story that you won't want to put down.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-1407110707

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Two years ago, Ali and her friends saved Daniel Feeny from committing suicide. They became local heroes and were looked up to as good examples of modern day teenagers. Ali was on her way to Cambridge, Stephen about to start his own business, Jackson getting ready to be reunited with his brother in Brighton where he'd also study history, and Hannah joining her mother's hairdressing business.

Then something dreadful happened. Five weeks later, Daniel was dead, and the gang of friends who had been adjusting to life as heroes were responsible.

Two years later and Ali and her friends begin to wonder whether they can go on covering up the past and whether it's better to come clean and face your demons, no matter how terrifying.

I always find it refreshing to find a young adult novel set in Britain based around the school-leaving age. Ali is about to enter sixth form where she will study hard to try to gain a place at a top university. While adolescence is a difficult time, there is no confusion like that a 16-year-old faces about making decisions that may affect their life. I feel as though this time in a person's life should be explored more in literature. Perhaps teens wouldn't feel so alone if they had something to connect to.

This time of confusion is captured brilliantly in Guilt Trip. School's out for exam study time and, when not studying or taking the exams, Ali finds herself wandering around aimlessly, not really sure of what to do with herself or how to spend her time, other than thinking about her future. Days become blurred, and Ali and her friends cling to any excitement they might find.

When they become local heroes for saving Daniel Feeny's life, it's a new wave of excitement for them which they grasp onto and ride full throttle. Even their teachers encourage them to develop a new relationship with Daniel, insisting that it could look good for the school and also for their future ambitions.

Unfortunately the book's focus on Daniel's near-death experience leaves some of the humanity of our main characters a lot to be desired. I love a book that isn't afraid of imperfect characters; It makes them more realistic than the dazzling heroes and heroines we are often forced to look up to. Imperfection and flaw in a character often provides compassion, realism, and depth to a story.

Ali, as our protagonist, however, is lacking this realism and reader sympathy. Amongst all the chaos, her concern is constantly with the recent closeness between herself and Jackson. In spite of her friendship with Hannah, her own relationship with Stephen, and Daniel Feeny's willingness to let the people who saved him into his fragile life, Ali has a one track mind that concerns no-one but herself.

In a story that has such a dramatic beginning, touching on the subject of teenage suicide, it's a shame that we don't get to explore it in more depth. Once Daniel's life is saved, Ali doesn't seem to care. She revels in how much people now look up to her but, unlike her friends, refuses to take the time to get to know him. I found it frustrating to be introduced to such an important issue as teenage suicide and then having it snatched away from me when I would have appreciated a detailed explanation of Daniel's ordeal rather than an unexplained sense of self-absorption in Ali.

The problem with Ali's character is that we don't know much about her. Other than her day-to-day activities, her future ambitions, and the occasional family member who floats by, we don't learn anything real about Ali. We know nothing about her life up until now. She mentions that Hannah, Jackson, and Stephen are new friends in her life, but we never explore who she was before they came along. We also never learn why she refuses to visit Daniel after he's come home from hospital. Her hostility towards the boy she helped save is puzzling and, as we are offered no explanation, Ali comes off as an immature brat at times.

Guilt Trip works as a coming-of-age focus on the confusing gap between leaving school and fully-fledged adulthood but the dramatic events that pull the reader in and are left without any real depth is frustrating. Perhaps, by leaving us with a lot of unanswered questions, Anne Cassidy has actually succeeded in bringing us a lot closer to the confusing world of a 16-year-old than we originally thought.

The flashfoward chapters to what has become of the gang two years after Daniel's death are poignant and filled with more realism, as we finally get to explore the full extent of their guilt through their nightmares and loneliness.

I'd still recommend reading Guilt Trip in spite of what I might have found missing from the story. This is especially a must-read for 16-18 year-olds who are also at that crossroads in their lives and may find themselves more connected to the characters than those no longer in that situation.

Newcomers to Anne Cassidy's books might also be interested in reading The Dead House, Hidden Child and Just Jealous.

Thank you very much to the publishers for sending this to the The Bookbag.

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