Afraid by Mandasue Heller
To date I had always enjoyed the books by Mandasue Heller that I have read and several are reviewed on this site: including Two Faced, https://bookreviewstoday.info/2015/03/30/two-faced-by-manda-sue-heller/, and The Driver https://bookreviewstoday.info/2015/04/29/the-driver-by-mandasue-heller/. As a result of this, when I heard she had this new book out, Afraid, I was keen to read it. Then, as luck would have it, my local library displayed Afraid amongst its new books, I was quick to borrow it.
Afraid is set on the gritty streets of Manchester, England. Indeed, the author moved to Manchester from Cheshire in 1982 and spent ten years living in the notorious Hulme Crescents. This area has been the background to her novels. I wish I could say that I really enjoyed this novel too, but I really did not.
The story revolves around fifteen-year-old Skye. She lives a chaotic life. She and parents are living from hand to mouth and her parents are constantly arguing. Skye finds a means of escape in an on-line chat room. She finds confiding in the “friends” she meets on line much easier than speaking to those she knows in her daily life. This background is all to familiar today and an extremely realistic premis. Perhaps it was the realism at this early stage of the story that made me feel so uncomfortable and tense.
Skye’s mother has mental health difficulties and, when Skye’s father is out working, her mother finally does something so shocking that it cannot be hushed up. The police turn Skye over to the social workers. That is when Skye’s nightmare begins. She does not know if her father is alive or dead and the social worker who is supposed to be helping her dumps her in a terrifying children’s home. It is more like a jail.
Skye feels increasingly isolated and miserable so she runs away and hides. The police and social workers are unable to find her. Skye has nowhere she can stay. However, Skye has one friend she can still turn to: the sympathetic girl she met in an internet chat room, Jade. The girl seems to have a home life as unhappy as Skye’s and Jade offers her a safe place to stay.
Skye is alone in Manchester and nearly penniless, she is willing to trust Jade. Unfortunately, it is not Jade who turns up at the rendezvous, but a grown-up man who says he’s Jade’s brother. Thereafter the novel becomes increasingly dark and predictable. I resented this because I do not expect predictablility of Mandasue Heller. I felt cheated by this crime fiction novel and do not think Afraid is amongst the best of her books.