Tuesday, 2 May 2017

'The Yellow Room' by Jess Vallance

Image result for the yellow room vallance
*This review will contain spoilers!*

'It's about half seven on Tuesday morning and it's freezing in my bedroom so I'm doing my usual trick of gathering all of my uniform together in one quick sweep, dragging it into bed with me and getting dressed completely under the duvet.'
I think everyone's going to relate to this first sentence: no one likes getting out of bed when it's cold!

Anna is on her way to school when the postman gives her a letter that changes her life. It's from a woman called Edie Southwood, and she's writing to inform Anna that her absent father is dead.
Edie, her father's long-term girlfriend, is utterly distraught by his passing. She asks Anna if they can meet, and against the wishes of her best friends George and Sienna, Anna agrees. If meeting her will help this woman's guilt, it's the least she can do.
Edie brings Anna a necklace that her father wanted her to have, and Anna wastes no time before asking about her father: it's too late to meet him, but it's not too late to get to know him. 
After a few hours in the cafe, Anna quickly comes to the realisation that she actually likes Edie. Her mother is a university professor who has no time for her: even though Edie is naive and innocent, her friendship is the closest Anna has to a parental bond. After a few trips to the seaside Edie decides she's going to relocate there and starts looking for flats, and Anna's happy to help. She's just grateful that her father's death didn't ruin Edie's chance for happiness.
But Anna's mother isn't the only problem in her life. She's being blackmailed by Leon Jakes-Field, a boy who goes to her school, because he saw her push a child she was babysitting (in self-defence, nonetheless). Leon thinks he's hot shit because his mum is a best-selling author, and he's certain he's going to follow in her footsteps. Anna hates him, but she can't let him know that or he'll send her life crashing down around her.
Anna confides in Evie, and the shared knowledge of her secret brings them closer together. She can't tell George or Sienna about Leon or the fact that she's still seeing Evie, and the secrets drive a wedge between their little trio. 
Then Anna gets a phone call, and it seems her dad might not be dead after all. So who is Edie Southwood, and why did she lie?

This is the YA answer to 'The Collector' by John Fowles. As that's one of my favourite classics of all time, you'd be betting correctly if you said I bloody loved this book.
It's psychological as shit
First of all you've got the blackmail from Leon, an intensely creepy asshole who manipulates Anna and gets so uncomfortably far into her personal space that you'll find yourself cringing in response while you read. 
Then you've got the relationship between Anna and her mother, which is a fascinating but heartbreakingly realistic depiction of a parent/child relationship. Not every family unit is a happy one, and that's not often represented in YA - often teenage characters have parents that they can turn to, confide in and rely on, but in real life that isn't always the case. 
Last but not least there's Edie, who tries to do everything right but goes about it in completely the wrong way. Edie genuinely thinks she's helping Anna - a fact which makes her barricading her in her spare room all the harder to understand. It's utterly chilling to read, even if it does feel a little rushed: it wouldn't have been good if there had been gratuitous, unnecessary scenes of Anna trapped in the yellow room, but it would have added to the significance of the setting that gives us our title. 
The only reason I didn't give this book five stars is because Anna never has to deal with her problems herself. Edie talks to Leon's mum and she deals with her son, forcing him to delete his so-called 'evidence' before shipping him off to Africa to work for his uncle. Anna's relationship with her mother is only changed when she saves her from Edie's yellow room, and Anna doesn't have to plot her escape because her parents and the police turn up to save the day. On the one hand, it's realistic - not many 16-year-olds have to deal with their problems entirely independently - but it's disappointing
That being said, I was so happy with how Jess finished the story. Edie gets the help that she needs and Anna isn't angry with her, which was a relief: sometimes people act out of character because of mental illness, and you can't hold what they do against them. Anna and her mother decide they're going to work on their problems, while Anna's dad leaves town again - it's not a straightforward happily ever after, because life rarely is! Being someone who only has one parent, I was worried that Anna's dad was going to rock up and be seen as the knight in shining armour: I could have cheered with happiness when Anna and her mum teamed up to show him they didn't think he was their saviour. 
This is an entirely satisfying standalone

I wish I'd read this book earlier. I'm definitely going to give Jess Vallance's debut novel, 'Birdy', a try: not many young adult authors are attempting to write contemporary psychological dramas, so this book was a refreshing change from the status quo. 

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