Marnie and Nelly live in a rough neighborhood in Glasgow, Scotland. Their parents are drug addicts, alcoholics, and there’s hints that their dad has been abusing the girls. Early on something happens to the parents and the girls cover it up so that they won’t be placed into the foster care system and split up. Marnie is the oldest and she’s very smart. Her smarts are what can help her escape the cycle of poverty and drugs. Since she’s never had anyone encourage her or affirm her intellect she believes she’s trapped in her life. Nelly is a gifted musician and from the way she’s described by other characters it sounds like she’s on the autism spectrum, specifically Aspberger’s.
The girls end up finding help from unexpected places. There’s the next door neighbor who ends up taking the girls under his wing. The eastern European immigrant who challenges and mentors Marnie. But there’s also several characters who serve as foils for the girls. The abusive, and creepy, maternal grandfather as well as Marnie’s drug-addict boyfriend.
This is a gritty read. I came across it on an awards list of books written about young adults for adults. It took me awhile to adjust to the idea that this was NOT a young adult book and was going to be much darker and less-escapist than most YA literature. Another issue I had with the book is that the story is told from Nelly’s, Marnie’s, and the neighbor’s perspectives. All of this switching around made it difficult to connect to some of the characters and follow the chronology of the story line. However, by the end of the book, the multiple narrators weave together a story about overcoming incredible odds, seeing the best in each other, and showing that even in the worst circumstances, there’s usually someone out there who will step in and make sure you’re ok.
I would recommend this read if you’re into realistic fiction and anti-hero characters. Marnie was tough to relate to in that she makes a lot of bad decisions. At the same time, knowing her life and background, it makes since that she’s doing what she does. It’s hard to escape the reality that many young adults face growing up in poverty and with parents who couldn’t care less. These two factors a lone make it an interesting read, especially for book clubs.