Part of her considerable gift, though, is her ability to examine the pitfalls of everyday existence in a way that feels completely absorbing. She conveys the draining, exhausting sense of counting every penny and stretching every pound, the confining cage of working poverty, while simultaneously evoking Rose’s uncertain but delighted exploration of her new freedom. Her richly empathetic portrayals of the siblings, their fears and struggles – with bullying, school etiquette, the swampy territory of the internet and male ownership of female bodies – combine in an enthralling, resonant, unusual and thought-provoking novel.
Seventeen-year-old Rose and her 13-year-old brother Rudder, outcasts from a fanatical religious group, are now trying to find their way among the “Worldly Wise”. Rudder loves the previously forbidden Harry Potter and Simon & Garfunkel, but misses his father and the certainties of “the Pilgrims”. Rose is enjoying her rebellion: from glittery eye shadow to the embraces of bad boy Kye. But there are dangers for such innocents as Rose and Rudder – not least through the license of the internet. Meanwhile, their hard-working mother struggles to keep her family. The threats in this book are unsettling, but Lawrence is a fine writer and her honesty, empathy and convincing observation of race, hardship and awakening sexuality compel emotional investment in her good-hearted protagonists.