In all honesty, this is not an easy book to read. What I mean by this is not that the book is badly written or turgid – quite the opposite – but simply that the subject matter pulls no punches. Fine has a reputation for writing books for older teenagers but she is also a pretty well established adult novelist too. Blood Family sits somewhere on the boundary line between the two – the subject matter might be seen as some as pretty adult but Fine is a writer who also believes that young adult readers should be challenged and not shielded from the difficult issues life holds for everyone.
This book is concerned with the issue of child abuse and it’s long term impact – which should give you an indication of how dark this story gets. Fine also explores the subject of genetic inheritance and invites us to think long and hard about the nature/nurture debate. Edward is only four when we first encounter him and his mother who have been made prisoners in their house by the abusive, alcoholic Harris. He sleeps on the floor and lives off scraps while having to witness the violence dished out to his mother. Although he is eventually rescued after a neighbour catches sight of him through a window, he has by then spent three years in captivity and deep damage has been done to the seven year old.
Even though he is adopted by a kind and caring family, as he grows into teenage he can’t escape the sense that there is something not quite right about him – he finds it hard to make friends and integrate with the world around him. Then one day when he’s looking at a photograph he has a sudden horrifying epiphany – the drunken abuser of his childhood was really his true father.
He can’t get confirmation from his mother who remains completely traumatised by her past and unable to communicate with anyone but his suspicions take root and begin to grow. Will he too turn into the sort of monster his father was? Is his future set and inevitable? This corrosive suspicion is enough to make his whole world begin to unravel and we see just how insidious and invasive childhood abuse can be. He begins to drink and take drugs as he spirals out of control and we start to see the consequences of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Is this cycle of abuse inevitable – will the inheritance of blood always win out in the end?
This is a dark and unsettling tale but superbly written and completely engaging – even if it is showcasing a depressing and disturbing set of issues. The book is given an extra dimension by the structure where the author cleverly gives us a view of the story through the eyes of most of the key characters, allowing them to give their own take on what is happening to Edward. The key missing voice is that of her mother who stays effectively silent throughout – amplifying the horror of the sort of damage domestic violence can inflict.
As I said at the outset, this is not an easy read but I would defend it stoutly as a book for older teenagers as well as adults. These aren’t easy topics for anyone but equally they are not ones that should not be dodged.
Terry Potter – January 2016
(This review was first published on www.letterpressproject.co.uk in January 2016)