Friday, 16 January 2015
In Bloom- Matthew Crow
I was sent a review copy of In Bloom a long time ago. Probably over a year ago, in fact. And although many bloggers who have similar taste in fiction to myself said they'd really loved Matthew Crow's novel, it had remained languishing on my bookcase waiting to be read. Over the Christmas period I started boxing up my books ready to move house, and In Bloom caught my eye. I started skimming the first few pages and before I knew it I'd finished the whole book!
So here are my thoughts on In Bloom...
A poignant and unexpectedly funny novel about Francis - one of the best and bravest teenage boy narrators since Adrian Mole. This is an emotionally honest story about wanting the very best from life, even when life shows you how very bad things can be.
Francis Wootton's first memory is of Kurt Cobain's death, and there have been other hardships closer to home since then. At fifteen years old he already knows all about loss and rejection - and to top it all off he has a permanently broke big brother, a grandma with selective memory (and very selective social graces) and a mum who's at best an acquired taste. Would-be poet, possible intellectual and definitely wasted in Tyne and Wear, Francis has grown used to figuring life out on his own.Lower Fifth is supposed to be his time, the start of an endless horizon towards whatever-comes-next. But when he is diagnosed with leukaemia that wide-open future suddenly narrows, and a whole new world of worry presents itself.There's the horror of being held back a year at school, the threat of imminent baldness, having to locate his best shirt in case a visiting princess or pop-star fancies him for a photo-op . . . But he hadn't reckoned on meeting Amber - fierce, tough, one-of-a-kind Amber - and finding a reason to tackle it all - the good, the bad and everything in between - head on.
In Bloom is a bright, funny, painful and refreshing novel about wanting the very best from life, even when life shows you how very bad it can be. It is a novel about how to live.
When I first heard about In Bloom, I was attracted to it's title. I'm in my thirties (however much I try to deny it, I really am) and I loved Nirvana as a teen. They were part of the soundtrack of my not-so-misspent youth. On a personal level, I had an affinity to this one right away because it took me back to that fragile adolescent period. Weirdly, I love books that remind me of the pain and trauma of puberty. They remind me I can survive ANYTHING.
Plus the edition I have has the most sumptuous black, silver and blue cover. Honestly, it's divine.
Francis, the protagonist, is dealing with everything all teenagers have to cope with- love, lust, self-confidence (or lack of)- but also has a diagnosis of leukaemia. In Bloom follows Francis as he undergoes treatment.
There's a lot of potential for this sort of plot to be depressing, because let's face it, life-threatening illnesses aren't exactly cheery reading. So it says a lot about the author (and their writing ability) when they manage to get the balance between humour, sensitivity and storytelling bang on. Matthew Crow wasn't an author I was familiar with before-I'd never read anything else by him and wasn't sure what to expect- but he portrays the mother/son and sibling relationships in the most exquisite way. As a mother myself, there were moments where the thumping pain deep within my chest threatened to break right through in empathy for both Francis and Amber's Mums.
And that's another thing. The relationship between Francis and Amber will break your heart. Just so you know.
There have been comparisons between this and John Green's The Fault in our Stars, and having read both I can see why. But to bundle all books which share a genre together would be wrong, and if people are put off reading this by the cancer/teen romance aspect similarities then they're missing out on some wonderfully intuitive and touching British fiction.
By the time I reached the final page, I felt like I'd been through a mangle, but kind of in a good way. If you read it, you'll know what I mean.