Jesika is four and a half.
She lives in a flat with her mother and baby brother and she knows a lot. She knows their flat is high up and the stairs are smelly. She knows she shouldn't draw on the peeling wallpaper or touch the broken window. And she knows she loves her mummy and baby brother Toby.
She does not know that their landlord is threatening to evict them and that Toby’s cough is going to get much worse. Or that Paige, her new best friend, has a secret that will explode their world.
I'm honoured to be hosting the blog tour for Home by Amanda Berriman today. My heartfelt thanks to the author, publishers and Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.
I knew from the first paragraph of Home that I was reading something very special and that it was likely to break my heart. The book is narrated throughout by four-year-old Jesika and through her innocent words that we learn of her mother's desperation as she tries to raise her two young children alone in a flat that is barely fit for purpose. While Jesika believes the black marks on the walls are tadpoles and is confused why her Mummy thinks they're moles, we realise that the reason why her little brother, Toby keeps coughing is due to the mould growing inside their flat.
Home is poverty laid bare, if it's possible to disregard the stories of adults driven down by their seemingly hopeless situation then the voice of this funny, wise little girl should be harder to ignore. When Jesika tells of her Mummy being cross or tearful, it's clear that this is a woman who believes she has nowhere to go and has reached the point where she feels little but despair. Amanda Berriman's book is an important reminder that the snapshots we see of a person's life so often don't tell the whole story. How often are mothers (particularly) judged for snapping at their children, for shouting at them in public, for not remembering to dress them in the correct clothes for special days at school? Tina is that woman and to the casual observer she may appear waspish and chaotic. In truth she is a loving mother who reads to her children every night and worries about what they eat. Life hasn't been kind to Tina though, left as a single mother she became a victim of the bedroom tax after her mother-in-law died. Home reflects the grinding daily struggles for too many people in 21st century Britain and that it's seen through the eyes of a young child who doesn't yet understand how desperate their situation is, just makes it even more poignant.
When Jesika's innocence and sunny disposition is threatened, it's impossible not to think of the real life children who are silenced by some of the adults meant to protect them. Amanda Berriman makes good use of current safeguarding advice as Tina uses the Underwear Rule to remind Jesika about body autonomy. However, for all the excellent intentions behind such advice there are still adults who know how to exploit the naivety of children and parts of Home are very difficult to read.
Home is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I work in a primary school and was immediately struck by not only the authenticity of Jesika's voice but also Amanda Berriman's appreciation of the lyricism of a young child's language. This may be a work of fiction but the story is all too real, Jesika's perspective is the actual lived experience of so many children as they notice more than we realise yet still manage to find the magic in the day to day. It's also a book about the strength of those who keep on keeping on even when they are let down by the system time and again. Home should make you angry as it tells profound truths about everyday people. That this a debut novel is extraordinary, Home got under my skin like few books can. Jesika's sweet words expose an often bitter reality but there's also humour and fortitude here. Home is an unforgettable, touching book that shines a light on difficult but only too common subjects, it's not depressing but is a call to demand better for all the Jesikas, Tinas and Tobys out there. An absolute must-read book.
Home was published by Doubleday/Transworld on 8th February 2018 and can be purchased here.
Please don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.
About the Author
Amanda was born in Germany and grew up in Edinburgh, reading books, playing music, writing stories and climbing hills. She works as a primary school teacher and lives on the edge of the Peak District with her husband, two children and dog.
Follow Amanda on Twitter at @MandyBerriman