Jess and her friends are caught shoplifting, but only Jess is caught with items in her pockets. As this is her third offence she is required to perform three months of community service if she wants to avoid a criminal record. It is during the community service time she meets Nicu, a Romanian teen. Nicu is in England with his parents to earn money with which to return to Romania to help with his marriage, which his parents are currently arranging. Nicu has also been caught shoplifting and as well as community service, he is made to attend school. Nicu and Jess slowly become friends during their community service time but Jess ignores Nicu at school, where he experiences bullying and seclusion from many of the other students. Set in London, this is post Brexit and English nationalism is strong amongst the school community in which Nicu finds himself. He is, subsequently, a target of this sentiment. Jess and Nicu have a lot in common, both in their home situations from which they want to escape. Jess’ mother is the victim of extreme domestic violence at the hands of Jess’ stepfather, much of which Jess is made to record on his phone for him, thus controlling both women. As the bullying and victimisation of Nicu escalates and his return date looms, so does Jess’ home situation.
This verse novel, co-written by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan, is told in alternate voices of Nicu and Jess. I love verse novels and have found there are two types. Verse novels that work, and those that don’t. This verse novel works extremely well. I rarely read a book quickly, but as soon as I started this I could not put it down and consumed it voraciously. It is the first post Brexit book I have come across and I am sure there will be many more.
We Come Apart explicitly portrays the lives of the two main characters. Jess and Nicu are victims of their own families and their need to escape their situations, for different reasons, become more urgent as the story progresses. Everything works well, the characterisation, dialogue, and setting. The ending is unexpected and will leave many thinking.
I found this an interesting look at a post Brexit England and the racist sentiments, encouraged by nationalism, some experienced. A similar publication in Australia is Becoming Aurora by Elizabeth Kasmer, published in 2016 by University of Queensland Press.
Good writing transports you, makes you feel the emotions of the characters and places you in the world of the novel. Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan have done this together seamlessly, portraying real-life situations of two teens at the fate of those who should be caring for them. This book has stayed with me a lot longer than it did for me to read it. I cannot recommend it enough.
Many thanks to Bloomsbury for supplying this book for review.