A four-year-old narrator powerfully brings home the fears of living life on the edge.
You already know Jesika, the four-year-old protagonist of Amanda Berriman’s debut. You will have seen her with her mum and baby brother squeezing a buggy laden with shopping bags on to the bus. Maybe you know them from the supermarket aisles, the mum exhausted and close to snapping, silently doing sums in her head. Jesika and her family live on the edge. They are scraping by, renting a slum flat in dangerous disrepair. One stroke of bad luck could push them into the abyss – and they face more than a few pushes in this book.
It is Jesika’s naive voice that tells this story of a family moving ever closer to disaster. Her first-person narration features childlike logic and rhythms of thought, misinterpreted and compacted words. On night falling, she says:
Not the quiet like when I jam my fingers in ears and quiet-noise leaks past them so I can hear the busy-ness and the veekles and the door-slamming and the yelling and the thump-da-thump-da-thump music. This is Real Quiet. This is Magic-Amazing Quiet.
It takes a little while to ease into but once you do, you are rewarded with a narrative that is rich in intimacy and immediacy. Her innocence also acts as a much-needed buffer to the adult understanding of just how at risk this family are.
Berriman is a former primary school teacher, and her acute awareness of the child’s world, as well as the spot-on grinding details of poverty, make this book wholly, painfully authentic. It is often challenging but always compelling; for the entirety of the second half, I was desperate to rescue Jesika and her family.
Home is a book that offers a much-needed insight into the realities of growing up poor. Comparisons to Room by Emma Donoghue are inevitable; however, while Room is a novel about one sick individual robbing a family of hope and dignity, Home tells the far more terrifying story of large-scale, pervasive structural inequality in our society which is failing its most vulnerable members in the most basic ways.
- Home by Amanda Berriman (Doubleday, £12.99). To order a copy for £9.99, go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.