Love, Shelley by Kate Saksena 2003
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK)
IQ "You [Ziggy] said it wasn't always a good idea to be honest with everyone else but you must be honest with yourself and with at least one person you can really trust." Shelley pg. 7-8
Shelley's favorite singer is Ziggy. She needs someone to talk to about everything that's going on at home and at school. She can't keep a diary for fear her mother will read it and she doesn't want to discuss her family problems with her friends. She decides to write letters to Ziggy, one each month, for a year. Even though he's a busy celebrity, she hopes he'll write back...
At first glance this book looks and sounds cute. I admit to thinking that it wouldn't be a very serious read or it wouldn't come off believably. I was wrong on both counts, this novel looks cute but the content is anything but and the author manages to keep a balance between the light and heavy stuff. Shelley's mother is an alcoholic and it's up to Shelley to take care of her younger brother, Jake when her mother is passed out or too drunk to remember to feed them. Shelley's father divorced their mother, in large part due to the alcoholism. Shelley is very dedicated, she's determined to take care of her mother and Jake without anyone's help. Through Shelley's letters we learn a lot about our life; her struggles at home, being bullied at school, her first crush, her first teacher crush (her math teacher looks like Will Smith and is the cause of many amusing incidents!) and a lot more. I also liked learning about Black culture in London, Shelley's dad is black and she is very close to his side of the family who are very proud of their heritage. Shelley lives with her white mother and since her mother is rarely around, there's no opportunity for Jake or Shelley to learn about their Black heritage at home (something interesting to me was that Shelley describes herself as mixed race, whereas in the States she would be seen as biracial and the term 'mixed race' would probably be applied to someone with has more than two cultures in their background. I think, correct me if I'm wrong). It's completely believable that Shelley would spill her heart out to a relative stranger, Ziggy is one of her idols and she can tell him secrets she can't tell anyone else because he doesn't know the people in her life. There's not a lot of over explanation, Shelley's background and story develop naturally through the letters.
I was troubled at the lack of help Shelley received from her father, grandparents and other family members. They saw how bad her mother could get and they knew Shelley and Jake where barely surviving, but they never really stepped in. I didn't find that realistic at all, several times Shelley mentions that her father comes to visit but leaves before their mother gets home to avoid a scene, to my mind that's not very responsible parenting. I could understand if Shelley's family is portrayed as uncaring, but Shelley as great love for them and they are described as caring and kind people so it doesn't add up. The bullying storyline was completely unrealistic as well, it just got ridiculous to the point where I was still cheering for Shelley to succeed but I was also rolling my eyes. I also thought that Shelley didn't really act her age, she's fourteen but she seemed a lot younger. I was bothered by Ziggy, but in a good way. You remain skeptical throughout the whole book if Ziggy is actually reading Shelley's letters and writing back. I was surprised by the ending but it works. I liked that each letter started with some lyrics from one of Ziggy's songs that would inevitably tie back to the subject Shelley is writing about.
Love, Shelley is a winsome novel about a resilient girl and her struggles balancing the trials of being a teenager who is forced to grow up a lot faster than other teenagers. Since the book has only been published in the UK, there's no explanation of any of the English terms that Shelley used and while that could be confusing at times (not sure what a queue or off-licence is) I liked the total immersion. (I totally walked around thinking in a British accent! ;) It was cool reading about how the English police force works, but sad at the same time because of the circumstances. The novel avoids cliches and the same-old-story trap by putting a fresh spin on the coming of age story by having Shelley write to a famous musician.
Disclosure: Received from Book Fairy #3. Thank you Kaz!
PS This is a bit random but I thought I'd share. I went to tag this as about African Americans but realized that it wasn't because it's set in England. So I'm tagging it as Black people. Does that offend some people? Is there a better term? I do want to review more UK/Australian books about POC and this is only a minor tagging problem for Black people living in these countries because Latino and Asian apply regardless. I would specify what indigenous group of people I'm talking about in relation to Australia, New Zealand, etc.
PSS Here's one of my favorite lines from Shelley dealing with the bullies;
"'I'm feeling claustrophobic, all of a sudden,' said Janice.
'It's the overcrowding,' said Olivia. [....]
'Janice, if you have a problem with claustrophobia, you should see a psychiatrist!' I [Shelley] said to her.
'Shut your nasty little mouth,' snarled Janice.
'I was only concerned for your health,' I said." pg. 29
Perfect comeback, not rude, but it shuts the bullies up (temporarily).
Throwback Thursday is a meme hosted by Jenny at Take Me Away
Reading in Color Note:*I will be out of town June 18-21 (Friday to Monday). I will respond to all comments and emails as soon as I can. I have scheduled posts to run while I'm gone, I'm particularly proud of one that I have for this Sunday (Father's Day).