Finally! Book five of 2017, and I’ve found the best book of the year so far. The headline is: buy this book. Buy it now.
There is a problem, though, with saying that I ‘enjoyed’ this book. It reminds me of an incident when I was about seven, and my primary school took a trip to the Imperial War Museum, where amongst other things there was a holocaust exhibition. When we got back, our teacher asked us to write letters to the museum about our experience of the trip. I remember innocently writing the words: ‘I enjoyed the Blitz experience and the holocaust room’. My teacher, coming ‘round and reading over my shoulder, pursed her lips. ‘You enjoyed the holocaust room?’ she asked, doubtfully. She set my brain gears whirling. I knew then that there was something not quite right about my choice of word, but I couldn’t think of any other. I was only seven and not yet a walking thesaurus(!). I couldn’t articulate the feeling that my experience in the holocaust exhibition was poignant and moving, that it felt important, necessary.
The subject matter is, I hasten, to add, completely different. But, to a lesser extent, I feel the same way about this book.
Annie’s mother is a serial killer of young boys. She also sexually abuses Annie herself. But aged 15, Annie finally goes to the police and ‘tells’ on her mother. What follows is the story of Annie’s foster placement with the well-meaning Mike, his vacant wife Saskia and their bully of a teenage daughter, Phoebe, as they prepare Annie for her mother’s upcoming trial at which Annie will have to testify.
Obviously a teenager who has been through what Annie has since a young age is not going to be unaffected, and this book bravely explores the possibility that the victim may not necessarily be without blemish herself. As the title suggests, she can be good, but she can also be very, very bad. Is she a victim of her nature or her circumstances? Genetics or environment, or both?
This book is horrifically fascinating – I felt guilty as I found myself wanting to know more detail about Annie’s mother’s crimes. It is tightly plotted and well-paced, and I genuinely found it hard to put down. Did I enjoy it? Well – I found it difficult. After the first chapter, I wasn’t sure I could go on reading the book. It was too horrific, not only what Annie’s mother had done, but the chilling fact that Annie still loves and misses her in spite of everything. But I am so glad I persevered. Female sex offenders are one of society’s last taboos, and this is without doubt a superbly written, extremely readable and very worthwhile exploration of such as difficult topic.
This year I have set myself the challenge of reading 40 books. Pre-baby I'd have gone for the big 52, but that may be a tad too ambitious! I shall be posting a review of every book here on my blog, and welcome your comments and discussion.