Skylarks by Karen Gregory
|Skylarks by Karen Gregory|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A welcome discussion of class and inequality underpins this LGBT love story. It's crammed with contemporary issues facing working class people - sometimes it's overwhelming - but these issues desperately need raising. The love story is gorgeous.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: May 2018|
|External links: Author's website|
Joni is halfway through her A levels. But she has a lot more than A levels to think about. Life is pretty tough at the moment. There isn't much money about, the family is behind on bills, Dad's back is getting worse and worse, and little brother Jack has a school trip coming up that needs to be paid for. Older brother Jamie got the sack from his dream job and, although he found somewhere else to work, is a big ball of resentment. To make matters worse, the charity that runs the housing on their estate is running out of money and thinking of selling up. But Joni has a great group of friends and a lovely mum and dad and a teacher who thinks she could get into university.
Then Joni meets Annabel and everything changes. Annabel goes to the local private school. Her family is rich. She doesn't have the kind of worries that Joni does. Joni should dislike Annabel and her snobby ways but... she doesn't. There's an undeniable spark between them and Joni begins to think that they might be falling in love. And then events intrude and Joni realises some differences might be too big to overcome...
The love story in Skylarks is, well, lovely. Joni is already out as a lesbian to her friends and family. But she's only had one relationship so isn't exactly an old hand at love. And Annabel has had a few crushes but never acted on anything or spoken to anyone about her orientation. But the fizz between them is unmistakable. Joni feels it as an electric charge and you feel it with her. And, as the attraction strengthens and the resentments dwindle, they find their way into a really touching first love. It's all threatened by the secrets they keep from one another, though, and this is a real lesson in maturity for them both. There aren't enough lesbian characters in YA fiction and I was really glad to see two in Skylarks, so sensitively drawn.
But the main thrust of the narrative is about inequality. Gregory includes many of the issues brought into focus by years of austerity in contemporary Britain. Joni's father gets moved from an employed contract to a self-employed one, without sick pay or holidays. When his back gives out, he is refused disability benefits. The social housing they live in is sold off and Joni's family is threatened with life in a B&B. The local library is no longer supported by the council and relies on charity to survive. The list goes on, and on, and on. We also see how being rich and privileged allows you to get away with bad things that would be punished if you are working class - how you can sexually harass women, for example, which recalls the recent Presidents Club charitable dinner involving Great Ormond Street Hospital. And then there is Joni's strong sense that the posh people are always looking down on people like her - she's not wrong, either.
Skylarks is a powerful story about inequality and call for social justice. It's also a tremendously touching love story featuring two very relatable lesbian characters. I thoroughly enjoyed it. More like this please! If I had one (tiny) criticism to make it would be that Gregory puts so much into the inequality narrative that it overwhelms rather than clarifies. All of the issues discussed are vitally important but it's easy to lose sight of each one individually when there is so much to take in. This is a nitpick, I hasten to add. I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
Gregory's first YA novel, Countless by Karen Gregory discusses eating disorders and teen pregnancy and is equally powerful. Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence also pairs two protagonists from very different social class backgrounds and is a fabulous read.
You can read more book reviews or buy Skylarks by Karen Gregory at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Skylarks by Karen Gregory at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.