The Opposite of Amber by Gillian Philip

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The Opposite of Amber by Gillian Philip

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Gillian Philip doesn't let us down with this chilling thriller that blends with a kitchen sink drama of relationship breakdown and social issues. Full marks from Bookbag!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0747599920

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Jinn was quick and shining bright; Jinn was motor-mouthed and nurturing... Actually she catered for my every whim to the point where she anticipated it asked for it, spoke for me There was never any need for me to speak and I know I could never say anything as well as she did, so I didn't bother. I didn't resent her or anything. I was proud to be spoken for by Jinn, sparky and bold. I was spoiled voiceless.

Spoiled voiceless - isn't that a whole world of meaning contained in just two words? Ruby is taciturn. Beyond older sister Jinn, few people get more than a word or two from her. But it's not surprising really - Ruby's mother Lara is dead, and even when she was alive she wasn't really what you'd call a responsible parent. Loving? Yes. Responsible? Not so much. So Jinn has always taken care of Ruby. And Ruby has always been able to be careful, quiet, reserved and reserving of trust. She truly has been spoiled voiceless.

But then Nathan Baird returns to town and things begin to go wrong. Nathan is no good. He steals and drinks and does drugs. And he's no good for Jinn. Ruby knows it. Jinn knows it. Even Nathan knows it. This is a doomed love affair. But it's an inevitable one. Girls are often drawn to bad boys - and perhaps this is even more true for Jinn, used to being a mother long before she should have been. But this is a poisonous kind of love, addictive and damaging and exclusive. Ruby is helpless with rage and fear as she watches the most important relationship in her life disintegrate into mistrust, resentment and bile, and Jinn's life disintegrate too as she falls further and further in her attempts to prop up Nathan.

Soon, Jinn has lost her job, lost her home, lost her Ruby, and is reduced to streetwalking to keep Nathan's debt collectors at bay. With a serial killer at large, Ruby is paralysed with fear for her sister...

Ruby, she who has been spoiled voiceless, discovers she must find her voice. And in many ways, The Opposite of Amber is a book about role reversal. It opens with Jinn blazing a trail through life for Ruby, who follows along it happily safe and secure, but also dependent and isolated. By its end, Ruby has doggedly and determinedly kept her feet on the ground and has emerged from her sister's protective shell battered but intact. The same can't be said for Jinn and it's ineffably sad. I cried buckets for this brave and sparky child-mother who made it so far, but not quite far enough for happiness.

Overlaying the book's pivotal relationship is the murder-mystery. Philip throws a great many twists, turns and red herrings at her readers and there are a number of plausible suspects. For once in my life, I actually caught the vital clue and worked out the killer. This is very unusual for me - what with nearing my dotage and being thick, a disastrous combination when reading whodunnits - and it certainly wasn't telegraphed. Trust is a strong theme in this book, and so both the mystery narrative and the relationship theme get wrapped up in which characters are worthy of trust and which aren't - and for this we need to understand that you can't always judge a book by its cover.

The Opposite of Amber is clever and subtle with layers upon layers of themes and meanings, exactly what we at Bookbag have come to expect from Gillian Philip, one of our favourite authors. It's beautifully written, tense and absorbing, and we can't recommend it highly enough.

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

Other YA thrillers we can heartily recommend are Deathwatch by Nicola Morgan, which is genuinely creepy and ticks lots of contemporary boxes, Burning Secrets by Clare Chambers, which the conspiracy buffs will love, and Quarry by Ally Kennen, a typically leftfield offering with tension and comedy.

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