Written by Sarah Stovell — In a remote part of the Lake District stands a property that serves as a home to a trio of troubled young women. The latest residents are Hope, Annie and Lara, and all three girls have troubled pasts which have affected them deeply. It’s Christmas Eve as this story begins, and before 25 December dawns, one of them is dead.
Which one? Well, as this book opens it’s unclear. What is certain is that the dead teenager drowned and was pregnant. The young girl found with the body is at first hysterical and incoherent, then she becomes defensive and downright bolshy as the police try to get to the truth of the matter. It’s an intriguing opening to a book that keeps you on the back foot throughout.
Helen, boss of The Home, is called into work on Christmas Day, leaving behind her own teenagers to begin the process of getting to the bottom of what actually happened. We soon learn that the place is about to close, a victim of funding cuts, and Helen is left to firefight alone as news of the death becomes more widespread. You’d think there would be a public outcry and press on the doorstep after such a tragedy but this never happens in The Home, instead Stovell keeps everything in house, with very little interference from the outside world, which creates a claustrophobic and off-kilter vibe for the whole book.
Little by little, we begin to learn the stories of the three young residents, painstakingly revealed as the narration chops and changes. At times this can be a little jarring – it’s difficult to keep on top of who’s who and who is saying what – but it serves to keep those pages turning. Through their own words, and those of the staff at the home too, it becomes clear that although the threesome came from very different backgrounds, each one has suffered tragedy and abuse in the past. Hope’s story in particular is harrowing and troubling.
Being thrown together in such a wild and untamed landscape had brought Annie and Hope together. It’s breaking the rules but staff turned a blind eye as the girls became dangerously close. Lara is on the outside, trapped in her own silent world where she relives over and over again the night that changed her life forever. The deeper we get, the more we see that it is what happened in the past, and what occurs in the present, are contributing to this unfolding tragedy.
There are few bright moments in a novel that never, ever shies away from the dark realities of life in care – and the downright evil and depraved things that led to the girls being placed there. Stovell shows skill in creating three such heart-rendingly believable young characters and the harshly beautiful Lake District landscape serves as a stunning backdrop to it all, but there’s an overwhelming sense of despair that never quite goes away.
This is not a book for the faint hearted, so if you’re looking for a little light reading, then The Home isn’t the one to choose. It’s a novel that deals with some dark and disturbing themes and I found myself having to read it in short bursts, so affecting are some of the chapters. However, if you like your crime reading to have grit and realism it’s a definite addition to the to be read list.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars