Where I Belong by Gillian Cross

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Where I Belong by Gillian Cross

Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Unusual, subtle and absorbing story about supermodels, kidnapping, and a young Somali girl sent to London to get an education and earn money for her family. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: April 2010
Publisher: OUP
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0192755544

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Khadija - although this is not her real name - is a young Somali girl, sent to Britain by her father. She's supposed to get an education and earn some money and then return, equipped to help bring prosperity to both her family and her impoverished country. She's an illegal immigrant, posing as a sister to Abdi. Abdi is a second generation Somali immigrant. He was born in the Netherlands and came to Britain when he was very young. He feels a connection to the land of his parents, but struggles to make sense of it as he has never been to Somalia. Freya is the daughter of a world-famous fashion designer, Sandy Dexter. She's aware of her privileged status, but she feels lonely and unloved. Her mother's passion for design doesn't leave much room for a daughter, and her father's abiding love for the woman he married makes Freya feel like everyone's second choice.

And then, Sandy gets a new inspiration for a fashion collection. She spots Khadija in the street and knows instantly that this is the girl who will front it. But this decision sets in motion an absolutely devastating series of events involving cultural mores, kidnaps, ransoms and family dynamics, as these seemingly separate worlds form multiple unseen connections...

I loved this book. It's unlike anything else on the shelves at the moment and it's tremendously subtle, sending you off into all sorts of trains of thought. The underlying theme is interconnectedness - particularly between the developed and developing worlds. Khadija, so many miles from home, can still contact her family by email. A fashion week shoot can stream live to London from the desert of a faraway country. That country is suffering a drought that could well be caused by global warming and the greedy energy consumption of the West. Poverty can cause crime and terrorism, but if poor people are a consequence of rich people's greed, who is to blame? Why do people migrate? Does a free market necessarily entail free movement of people? Why do women wear the veil? Is there a cultural or environmental basis to the religious prescription?

In the adult sphere, these issues are treated in such a juvenile way - and I use that word deliberately - but here, in a book for teenagers, there's more maturity than you see anywhere in the political media. In some ways, it's a shame. But to my mind, and if we're looking to the future, it's absolutely grand. The proverb says before you criticise a man, walk a mile in his shoes, and this is really what Where I Belong is offering. Cross introduces three very different characters - a nomadic Somali girl thrust into British society, a second generation immigrant boy whose life and heritage need resolving, and a privileged British girl who feels lonely and unloved. Each is missing something, and mutual understanding helps them to find it.

Kudos to Gillian Cross for writing something interesting, utterly absorbing and full of tension, and managing to join all these myriad dots in such a positive and progressive way.

High recommended.

My thanks to the good people at OUP for sending the book.

If they enjoy the exploration of current issues, they might also like The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd, which has a fantastic near-future take on global warming. The thorny subject of immigration also gets a nod and a fantasy twist in The White Horse Trick by Kate Thompson. For a contemporary thriller coming from leftfield, they could look at Deathwatch by Nicola Morgan.

Buy Where I Belong by Gillian Cross at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Where I Belong by Gillian Cross at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Where I Belong by Gillian Cross at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Where I Belong by Gillian Cross at Amazon.com.


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