There are few books which flaw me with profound and elegant insight, but this book turns the world upside down and holds a mirror to societies evils, warts and all.
This is the story of Callum and Sephy (Persephone). One white, the other black, separated by the system on racist grounds. Black is the dominant race with the white minority suffering racial prejudice. Right from the start you are struck by the racial injustice and loss of hope in the minority community, as gradually everything is taken away from them.. The integration of schools echoes the civil rights movement in sixties America. Standing up for what is right has unforeseen consequences and a price to pay.
Likening the story to Romeo and Juliet almost trivialises the bigger picture which goes far beyond two families. This book examines how institutions (school, justice, employment and politics), affect the individual and how socialisation reinforces and shapes the wider society. Why the use of language matters, not only in how we see ourselves, but how we view other people. The value of work and the denigration and loss imposed by society when it is absent or lost. The breakdown of relationships through poverty and hardship.
The pace of this novel is measured and dynamic, not letting up for a second, yet not feeling rushed either. Written alternatively from both Callum and Sephy’s point of view, we get a view of race from both sides. How family dynamics and loyalties cause friction on both sides, echoing the problems in wider society. It is interesting that Callum’s family is more united and separate than Sephy’s middle class ideal, with a father who pursues power, a mother who drinks and a sister who wants to escape the family home.
The characters are well drawn, both Callum and Sephy are relatable and although we do not see much of their parents, we do feel their concern for their children’s future. The siblings Jude and Minerva are both the older rebellious sister and brother who challenge the system on their terms. Sephy and Callum naively believe things can change through acts of will and non-violent means. Love conquers all.
The ending is logical and satisfying. It is not a miracle cure, it does not give false hope, like the rest of the book it just states the facts. The addition of the short story An Eye for an Eye really enhances the ending and I look forward to reading the rest of the series. In common with To Kill a Mockingbird this should be a set text in all schools. If you ever question why Black Lives Matter, read the book, and become a nought.