Well, a full-length young adult novel from the creator of The Gruffalo and other successful picture books! That Donaldson is an expert in the shorter form is now unquestioned, and it is cause for celebration, both for her and for us, that she has decided to launch out in a new genre. The question everyone will want to know is: Can Donaldson ‘do’ a long narrative? The form is so different from the short rhyming texts of hers we are used to appreciating.
The answer to the question has to be a resounding Yes. Certainly by the end of the novel. I confess I felt a little uncertain during its opening pages, but alternating narrative voices always take a little time to become established. (I was also reading the early part of the novel on a train and there was a distractingly giggly conversation going on in the bay behind me.)
The main character’s voice belongs to Leo, a girl who has been living with her aunt and uncle following the death of both her parents in an accident. She is compelled to run away from home, both by a desire to discover her Chinese heritage and by the discomfort she feels in her uncle’s presence.
Once she has arrived in Glasgow the torque of the narrative really begins to pull the reader along. The secondary voice is that of Finley, a boy whom Leo befriends in Glasgow and who helps her avoid discovery.
In addition to the two separate narrative points of view, Donaldson extremely cleverly interjects newspaper reports, a shopping list, letters, an email… Coupled with the explicitly documented Glaswegian locations, this gives the book cast-iron credibility, creating a story that is believable, exciting and moving. (There is a touching episode near the end of the book when Finley’s family hear all about his role in Leo’s affairs.)