3 out of 4 stars
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“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.-
Fourteen-year-old Jess has been dealt a hard hand in life. Fleeing from the captivity of a halfway house, she hitchhikes aimlessly until a grisly encounter with a truck-driver lands her in the Foster System. Will Jess be able to let her guard down and trust people again?
Alley Kid by Bronwin Dargaville describes Jess’s path in the Foster System and her inner struggle to trust herself and others.
My favorite aspect of the novel is the outstanding character development. Even secondary and incidental characters are well-thought-out and congruent. Their motives, behaviors, and backstories are clear in the mind of the author even if she doesn’t dump them unnecessarily on the page. In fact, my favorite character, Serena, is a secondary one.
I applaud how Bronwin Dargaville deals with the aftermath of sexual assault and abuse. The portrayal of PTSD symptoms and society’s tendency to victim-blame is extremely realistic. For example, the way Jess flinches at people’s touch or how she struggles to recognize her own self-worth are congruent with an abuse survivor’s behavior. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the author also approaches wrongful allegations of sexual assault. It is a topic that’s rarely discussed, but that holds as much importance as real accusations.
This novel is a precious blend of action and thought-provoking passages. It provided me with a genuine inner view of the Foster System, which was especially interesting because we don’t have such a system in my country. It truly made me reconsider and value the effort some foster parents put into receiving a stranger into their families.
The main flaw I found in the novel was the pacing. I’m pretty sure it was intentional, but the book starts strong, and then it goes on a loop of Jess repeating the same pattern of behavior. Of course, this is coherent with how abuse survivors react, but I got to a point of desperation. What makes me think it was intentional is that this zenith coincided with a comment of another character that was just as sick and tired of Jess’s attitude as I was.
A second, minor flaw is that the book has over ten mistakes and typos. These are minor and don’t interfere with the reading flow or enjoyment.
The book contains a lot of profanities. It also has mentions of other adult topics. However, I wouldn’t discourage teenagers from reading it. Some parents might feel uncomfortable with their kid reading profanities and that’s their prerogative, but I think the book touches on important subjects for teens, such as impulse control. I would recommend reading it with the aid of an adult that can discuss the more conflicting parts with them. I have to warn that there are mentions of sexual assault, child abuse, alcoholism, and suicidal ideation. People sensitive to these topics might want to steer clear from this novel. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys realistic narratives, character-driven stories, and deep dives into psychological hardships. I wouldn't recommend this novel to readers who prefer sci-fi or fantasy.
I rate Alley Kid by Bronwin Dargaville 3 out of 4 stars because of the meaningful topics, the amazing character development, and the realistic way of approaching inner turmoils and societal conflicts. I had to subtract a star for minor editing flaws.
Alley Kid is a testimony to the power of patience, the strength of compassion, the transformative ability of love, and the potential for humans to overcome appalling circumstances and open their hearts. I look forward to other work by the author.
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