Friday, 6 December 2013

Reviewed by Arianne: By Any Other Name by Laura Jarratt


Product details:
Publisher: Electric Monkey.
Paperback, 368 pages.
Release date: April 1st 2013.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Ages: 12+ Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Arianne.

Nobody can know the truth—her life depends on it. A tale of family, identity, and trust, about a girl struggling with life in the witness protection program.

I picked up the book and thumbed through the pages. Names in alphabetical order, names with meanings, names I knew, names I'd never heard of. How to pick? Nothing that would stand out, nothing that would link me to the past—those were the instructions. The past. As if everything that had gone before this moment was buried already.

Holly is 15 years old, but she's only been "Holly" for a matter of months. Because of something that happened, she and her family have had to enter witness protection and have all assumed new identities. All, that is, except her sister Katie, who is autistic. Starting at a new school mid-year is hard enough at the best of times, and Holly has no clue who she is anymore. Lonely and angry, she reaches out to friends—new and old. But one wrong move will put all their lives in danger.



In this book - her second novel - Laura Jarratt cements her place as one of UKYA's strongest new authors. Her solid and reassuring sense storytelling returns in a book which, handled by a writer of less status, may have sadly sunk instead of soared. 

Holly Latham is forced to switch lives like she's slipping on a second skin. Her real name isn’t even Holly – it’s Louisa. She's in a witness protection programme for her own safety and her family has had to come with her. 

I'm not a huge fan of witness protection novels, but Laura Jarratt takes a plot which is more typical of the American YA scene and transforms it into something entirely unique to its UK setting. As an author she skirts expertly around the reasons for Holly's dramatic change in lifestyle for the majority of the book, paving the way for what to some will be a shocking conclusion. The reason I mention the ending here, so early in a review, is that I really feel readers need to be forewarned at the devastation this book’s later chapters will bring – I was expecting it, and even I found it hard to take.

But before all that – and before I can edge even closer to the Land of Major Spoilers! – I need to talk about the characters. 

Holly, ironically, is a relatively uncomplicated figure. She’s plagued by her past and drawing a blank on her future, but she’s not difficult to understand. Her actions are motivated by fear, concern and isolation. Her family rallies around her but tension crackles between them like a heavy weight on thin ice. There’s always that little thing which is left unsaid and it’s dragging them down.

The characters I really loved were Joe and Matt. I adored the focus on the relationship between these two brothers, whose lives are, in many ways, just as affected by pain as Holly’s life is. Holly’s arrival in their little village changes both of them. Their home is a working farm and Matt’s just returned from a warzone - minus his legs and his will to live. Charismatic, cool, closed-off Joe stars as the love interest, but he’s so much more than that. He’s there for Holly. He becomes, rather than starts out as, a hero. 

For me however, the award for favourite character goes to Katie, Holly's younger sister. In a striking parallel to Holly's continued struggle with her own sense of identity and self-worth, Katie can't be anyone but herself - because she has autism. 

It's difficult to explain how much I loved this aspect of the book. On the one hand, it would be easy to comment on how brave it was of Laura Jarratt to include the realities of life on the autistic spectrum in a book which is already laden with tough choices and even tougher characters, but I don’t really believe it’s brave – I believe it’s the future. Autism affects so many people, so many families, but it’s vastly under-represented in YA. As the category becomes more open to exploring topics like it, some of which even adult fiction hasn’t been able to take on, writers who follow in the footsteps lain here will be creating a new type of story, one that is inclusive and big-hearted and as full of joy as it is of hardship, and Laura Jarratt has set an incredible precedent with By Any Other Name. I was struck by how quickly Katie crept into my heart - unlike Holly, who takes some warming to. The witness protection plot thread was thrilling and full of suspense, but I found myself wishing a few more pages could be dedicated to developing the relationship between these sisters. 

Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and daisies, especially on the writing style front. It’s possible to overlook a lack of style in one book, but when that same bland tone creeps into an author’s second novel, it really starts to grate. I just couldn’t see past the dullness of the prose. It’s totally unremarkable and too plain to complete with the extraordinary standard set by the rest of the YA world. It read as if it could have been written by anyone. In fact, the flatness was the only thing reminding me it was a Laura Jarratt novel – that, and the frequent use of ellipses to express emotion. I’m fine with a character trailing off in dialogue but not in the narrative. Drifting sentences should be used sparingly, if ever, to illustrate a character’s situation. It’s old-fashioned and unnecessary. If you can’t do it with words, don’t do it all. 

In short: By Any Other Name is a story about identity, in all its forms. Led equally by its strong characters and tense, shocking plot, it shows that UKYA in 2013 is going from strength to strength – but to compete on a global stage, it still needs a serious style overhaul. 
 

--Arianne.

6 comments :

  1. I'm not really a big fan of books which deal with witness protection type stories either, I picked up one earlier this year and it hugely let me down. But it sounds like Jarratt has created an excellent novel in By Any Other Name. And I like how she decides to bring many other aspects like Katie's sister's autism to the forefront too! Great review Arianne!

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  2. Glad you enjoyed the review, Jasprit! By Any Other Name definitely centres around its witness protection plot but there are a lot of deeper issues explored too, which made it a real page-turning read. If you get your hands on it, let us know what you think right away!

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  3. I love tote bags. Never can have enough! :)

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  4. Yes, the mug is a big hit! :)

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  5. I am so good at buying Christmas presents for myself! ;)

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  6. I still haven't read anything by John Green. Maybe next year. I love the mug too! :)

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