This is an odd little gem of a book.
It is a debut novel by Sarah Crossan written in verse – free verse – rather than prose; but deals with the realities of a very credible modern situation. As such, the disjunct between a contemporary situation and the language does parallel the disjunction and disconnection of a smart girl in a foreign culture.
Kasienka is a thirteen year-old Polish girl and has migrated to England. There is therefore the whole political, European Union element to it. Particularly in the descriptions of the building into which Kasienka and her mother move. It is an immigration ghetto, populated by a range of immigrants to the UK living in tiny single-room, single-bed flats.
The political difficulties that immigration control poses to domestic populations – and the pangs it causes various political parties in the UK – is played out on a small-scale in Kasienka’s school where she is alternately isolated from and victimised by Clair, the school bully. There is no fight, no violence, no confrontation but a more insidious campaign of
The smirks, the eye rolling”
As a teacher, the book is eye-opening in the way that little acts – possibly done for the beat of reasons, such as entering Kasienka in Year 7, grouping of children in class activities – can become devastating. As Kasienka reads Sylvia Plath, it becomes clear just how insidious and appalling the effects of this snide bullying can be.
And a romance helps to pull Kasienka through – the first funny, poignant false starts and misunderstandings of first love. William, who Kasienka meets at the swimming pool, is no charging knight to rescue Kasienka but his presence gives her hope to be herself.
And, beneath all this, is the tragedy of Kasienka’s parents: her father having fled to Coventry – of all places in the country, why Coventry? – her mother and Kasienka have followed. Once they have found Tata, Kasienka’s father, there is a beautiful phrase: that
Together they are tuneless;
The sounds they make are ugly,
Like knives being sharpened
Written in verse, there isn’t the depth or development that you’d expect in a novel. It is a brief read. A read where individual lines resonate and chime. And Kasienka is a truly compelling narrator: clever, funny and strong beneath the desperation.
I personally didn’t feel the poetry: it didn’t seem to add anything having it in verse as opposed to prose. The novel was very pared down and poignant and much of Sarah Crossan’s writing was beautiful and, yes, lyrical. But prose can be l