Toffee by Sarah Crossan

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Toffee by Sarah Crossan

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Toffee covers some painful topics - domestic abuse, dementia, poverty - but is not dour: rather, it is the story of a beautiful old-young friendship told in free verse.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: May 2019
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1408868126

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I am not who I say I am,
and Marla isn't who she thinks she is.

I am a girl trying to forget.
She is a woman trying to remember.

Allison has finally had enough and has run away from home. The burning red weal on her face provides a clue to why. She's on her way to Bude to find Kelly-Anne, who was the first to run away from home, but Kelly-Anne isn't answering her phone. Night is closing in and so Allison takes refuge in a shed in the garden of what looks to be an empty house. But the house isn't empty. Marla lives in it and Marla doesn't remember things very well. She mistakes Allison for her friend, Toffee. And because Allison doesn't much want to be Allison any more and because Marla is so happy to see Toffee - why shouldn't Allison become Toffee?

And so a friendship begins. A false friendship at first, because Marla has money in her purse and food in her cupboards and a bed upstairs, and Allison has none of those things. But Marla has much more to offer than those things: she has memories, laughter, love and dancing. And it's there that the real friendship is formed.

But can it last? Can it overcome all the background noise creeping closer and closer? Allison's dad? Kelly-Anne? Marla's carer? Her son? Her illness?

Oh, my. This is Sarah Crossan's latest work in free verse and it's truly beautiful. The joy, I think, is how it bears re-reading. You rush through the first time - in a hurry to discover Allison's slow reveal about what led her to Marla and desperate to find out what happens to these two vulnerable but engaging characters. But, as soon as you've finished, you go straight back to see all the clever details and hints and delicate allusions that you know you missed in your first headlong dash of a read. And they're all there.

Here's the negligence of people who should know better:

It's what I'm used to -
telling lies and observing how
people untighten
when they aren't required to care.

This why we so regularly wring our hands and say "lessons must be learned" and "we couldn't have known". This is what the turning of blind eyes looks like when you're Allison or someone like her. I love Crossan for never flinching and giving voice to those from whom we'd prefer not to hear if it punctures our comfortable bubbles.

Toffee covers some painful topics - domestic abuse, dementia, poverty - but it isn't a dour read. That clever, delicate language is turned to a beautiful friendship between a young girl and an old woman and how much it brings to them both. It's turned to Marla's ribald sense of humour and Allison's hopes for the future. It's turned to daft patterns on carpets and dancing with joy. It's full of drama and also full of subtlety. Touching and quite beautiful, Toffee is a keeper.

If you enjoy free verse, try We Come Apart, a collaboration between Crossan and the lovely Brian Conaghan. Or Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech, a study in the stages of grief.

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