Meet Me At The Boathouse by Suzanne Bugler
|Meet Me At The Boathouse by Suzanne Bugler|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Bugler creates a tense, electric atmosphere in this book about obsessive, abusive relationships. It's a subtle examination of the balance of power between lovers and it turns an unforgiving eye on poor parenting. Beautifully done.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: N/A||Date: May 2007|
|Publisher: Hodder Children's Books|
Louise's home is not a happy one. Her mother is a neurotic, self-absorbed woman who sees things only in terms of how they affect her. Her father is well-meaning but ineffectual. It's a cold, uncommunicative house, fraught with the tension of trying to avoid the many triggers certain to release yet another tantrum from Louise's mother. At school, Louise is part of a competitive threesome, so common to teenaged girls, in which one of the three friends is always out in the cold. Louise, an artistic, introverted, sensitive girl is lonely. She needs to be loved. So when Danny comes along, so attentive, so adoring, she falls for him hook, line and sinker. No matter that he's a truant. No matter that he drinks and smokes dope. No matter that he tells lies. Danny loves Louise. And when that love gradually turns to obsession, control and violence and Louise can't find an escape route, she probably wouldn't take it even if she could.
Meet Me At The Boathouse was electrifying. I couldn't put it down. If ever there was a girl at risk of falling into an unsuitable and damaging relationship, it is Louise. Unhappy, alienated, criticised and with a profound sense of being unwanted, she reaches out to the enigmatic, dangerous, bad Danny and despite my forty-odd years, I felt myself reaching with her. I just couldn't help it. But when things started to go so horribly wrong, I was utterly desperate for her to find the strength to make the break before it all went too far. I spent half the book literally on the edge of my seat.
Louise is completely credible character. She's desperate for love and affection, she's terrified to reveal herself lest she's exposed, she has a typically adolescent violent reaction to the discovery that her parents are less than perfect. She's angry a lot of the time. She's afraid a lot of the time. And she's absolutely in the thrall of first love. It consumes her. Even though she understands that her relationship with Danny is badly skewed, that he's abusive and controlling, she's drawn further and further in. Escape seems impossible and even if it were possible, it's better than being alone. It's better than being unloved.
Ms Bugler has hit all the right notes elsewhere, too. Danny, of course, is also a victim. But it's completely clear that whatever his problems, he is the one in the wrong in this doomed teen love affair. We seem to warn our children about the dangers of sex, alcohol and drugs, and indeed, we see Louise do all these things. They're not sensible things to do, but they're really no more than passing rebellions for Louise. Where we so often fail our children is in teaching them how to create and maintain mutually worthwhile, equal relationships, especially by our own example. I thought Meet Me At The Boathouse was a tremendous illustration of this. Had Louise felt wanted at home, Danny would never have been able to manipulate her in the way that he did. Told in a first person narrative, the reader can see Louise's parents - despite their faults - care for her deeply, but they can also see exactly why Louise doesn't believe that.
Both adolescents and parents can take a great deal from this tense and subtle book. There isn't a tidy ending - when is life ever tidy? - but there is always a way out, even for Louise.
My thanks to the nice people at Hodder for sending the book.
A slightly less intense book about a teenager making a mess of first love and first sex is Laura Ruby's Good Girls. Will Davis creates a black comedy about the coming out of a gay adolescent with an equally dysfunctional family in My Side Of The Story.
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