The Weight of Small Things by Julie Lancaster #BookReview #BlogTour

Nine-year-old Frankie Appleton likes to count gates. One day she hopes to design the perfect gate - a gate to keep the bad things out. Little does she know that the bad things have already got in. Now her mother is dead, and the only other person with a house key has disappeared. Frankie thinks she knows who it is. But first she has to prove it. A delicately brutal exploration of what lies behind closed doors, and the secrets and lies that form the fabric of every family, The Weight of Small Things is as charming as it is chilling.

I'm delighted to be opening the blog tour for The Weight of Small Things today. Many thanks to Julie Lancaster and Melanie from Mirror Books for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

The Weight of Small Things sounds like crime fiction - and in a sense it is - but it is so much more besides. At the heart of the story are three female characters and this hard-hitting novel never shies away from exploring the damage inflicted on some women by the men in their lives.
That's not to say the women are without flaws; there are times when their behaviour is utterly shocking but it's impossible not to feel at least some sympathy for all of them, at least at some points. It's the youngest protagonist, nine-year-old Frankie Appleton who is the stand-out character, however and I can't believe that anybody will be able to resist falling in love with her. She's a strangely precocious child who has an obsession with gates and she doesn't just like to count them, her favourite books are about them too, especially her most treasured title, 'The Grandeur of Gates'. It's soon evident that she has had to grow up too fast and doesn't have an easy life, with early clues to the neglect and violence she has been exposed to. The scene where she finds the body of her mother, Peggy is heartbreaking, not just because of the tragedy of her loss but for the sheer, aching loneliness of that moment.
Peggy's death doesn't end her involvement in the book as the storyline switches between various narratives, particularly hers and Frankie's. After an early chapter reveals her own desperately troubled childhood, it's easier to sympathise with the damaged woman she becomes, especially after she is abruptly robbed of her chance of having a happy family. Her reaction to Frankie's birth is terribly sad and it's obvious that she is mentally ill. The circumstances mean this is hardly surprising and although she receives some treatment, it's clear that she needed so much more help. Of course, mental health was less understood in the Eighties, when this book is set than it is now and so her eventual reliance on pills is almost inevitable.
Other chapters feature Stella who also experienced a tragic loss and who has her own dark secrets to bear. She is trapped with her memories in an unhappy marriage and although she is a character I struggled to like at times, her situation and the horribly upsetting experiences she carries with her perhaps help to explain some of her actions. 
It's Frankie and Peggy's narratives which form the most affecting parts of the novel and though these are lives ripped apart by abuse, neglect and domestic violence, there is a gentle sense of humour which runs throughout the book, most notably through the delightfully sharp observations of the wonderful Frankie. After she moves in with her grandmother, there's a lovely scene where she tries to come to terms with living several floors up. From her straightforward questioning of the other residents of her block of flats, to her endless notes, to the poignant yet often very funny letters she writes to her mother, she is a beautifully realised character and the absolute highlight of this very strongly character-driven novel.
Later in the book there are a number of shocking and disturbing revelations and the plot twists in ways I hadn't expected. Throughout it all, however, is the damaged yet still somehow touching relationship between a mother and daughter. The Weight of Small Things moved me to tears several times; these are bleak lives and the subject matter is often grim but the moments of hope and kindness moved me too - there's a heartrending scene involving Frankie's friend, Vinnie which was one of my favourite parts of the book despite only playing a small part in the plot. 
The Weight of Small Things tackles some difficult subjects with such sensitive insight and this dark, emotive story, filled with authentic, memorable characters couldn't fail to win my heart. It's a stunning debut novel and I'm looking forward to her next book with eager anticipation. 

The Weight of Small Things will be published by Mirror Books in ebook on 28th May 2020 and in paperback on 6th August 2020. Purchasing links can be found here but please try to support independent bookstores whenever possible.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
Author Julie lives in Staffordshire where she was born. She worked in academic and public libraries - writing in her spare time. She has been a travel agent, a university admissions assistant and a volunteer counsellor. She loves true crime and crime fiction. This is her first novel.