The ultimate feel-good teen read that will provide the perfect escape this spring and summer. So good, in fact, that it should be available on prescription.
Agnes’s life is super organised. For example, she has a specific post school snack organised for each day of the week and her GSCE revision planned months in advance. Even the smallest change makes Agnes’s fingers twitch and throws her off kilter. It’s, therefore, a huge deal for her to suddenly organise a week in Weston as a ‘study break’ just before the exams. Her sister has moved to the town and Agnes is determined to persuade her to come home. Unfortunately, Agnes can’t tell her mum or afford to go alone so her road trip ends up including Hattie and Jake – two Year Elevens from her school who she sits close to on the school bus and barely knows. Hattie and Jake both have their own reasons for wanting to get away (Hattie needs to escape her former friends who are ‘ghosting’ her and Jake fears he is ill) but neither are prepared to share their secrets. At least not until events in Weston force them to face their fears.
Those who have read Kate Mallinder’s debut book, Summer of No Regrets, will already know that Kate is the master of fiction written in multiple first person voices. Indeed, I was staggered when I found that book structured with four different teen girl voices in strict rotation – something that all creative writing books warn can’t be done but which worked wonderfully. In her second book, Asking for a Friend, we have three new teens whose voices are, again, presented in strict rotation and, again, impressively distinct and believable.
I can’t, however, argue that they are all equal. This is because I have a definite preference for one character (indeed, a new all-time favourite character) whose voice I loved so much that I have, so far, read this book FOUR times. It’s not difficult to guess who – just check out my summary of the story at the top of the review and it should be obvious. Agnes! The text in the book mentions that some of her challenges are because she has Aspergers but really this explanation is unnecessary as I instantly identified with Agnes and was routing for her from the opening lines. Even when I laughed (there are some instances where Agnes’s literal interpretations, comments or matter of fact statements in the face of a crisis are very funny), my support for Agnes never wavered.
While Agnes undoubtedly makes this book stand out, Hattie and Jake are both strong characters with appealing voices that kept me reading. (Although I loved Agnes, I was never in the position of just reading to reach her next chapters). I was also gripped by the character-driven plot as each member of a trio fights their own inner battle to face their fears. There’s a brief action scene on the beach but ultimately this is a character-driven story about friendship and finding yourself. Indeed, it’s the ultimate feel-good read.
While the author and publisher might be lamenting that the launch of the book has coincided with the Covid-19 crisis, the rest of us should be celebrating. At a time when events in the world are so difficult, reading this book is the ultimate escape. It’s so good, in fact, that it should be available on prescription. I certainly intend to keep my copy close in the coming months to re-read on a regular basis, and I’d strongly recommend you find an online bookstore and order your copy now.
If you enjoyed this, and haven’t already done so, you really must read Summer of No Regrets by Kate Mallinder.
Publication Date: May 2020
Author: Kate Mallinder