The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine
|The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A deeply humane and heartwarming story of mistakes and regrets and how to put them right. Witty, wise and full of unforgettable characters. Jenny Valentine just gets better and better.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 216||Date: March 2009|
|Publisher: Harper Collins|
|External links: Author's website|
Sam has run away from his home in the country to the big smoke. He's working at a supermarket, stacking shelves, because he is a sensible lad, and has no intention of ending up on the streets. He's found a bedsit at 33 Georgiana Street, and his dearest wish is to be left alone; to be a stranger in a city full of people.
Bo, in the upstairs flat, is ten. She doesn't go to school and that suits her peripatetic mother just fine. If nobody knows where they are, the next runner will be that much easier to accomplish. But Bo doesn't like being alone, and so she sets herself to make a friend of Sam, whether he likes it or not. And he doesn't like it at all. But you will, because it is very funny.
However, both Bo and Sam have skeletons in their closets, and old Isabel downstairs doesn't approve of skeletons. 33 Georgiana Street might well belong to Steve, but with Isabel on the case, you can guarantee the secrets will out...
Jenny Valentine finds the pain in young lives as easily as she does the laughter. Children with failing parents often feel they themselves are responsible for that failure, and there's a moment in The Ant Colony when poor Bo has said too much and there's a row - I was ashamed to be the cause of all that commotion. I should just have kept my mouth shut - and it was so sad that my eyes filled with tears.
As you read Valentine's books, you realise that in the simple and broad strokes she uses you can find the whole gamut of human emotions. Valentine herself has moved from city to country, as have I, and here she sums up what we townies love and what we miss - You learn four hundred and fifty new shades of green, but everyone's skin is the same colour. I made a real connection with her there, and every reader she has will make similar and other connections as they read.
I think this lady really is getting better and better with everything she writes. The Ant Colony will probably find itself read by a new audience of slightly younger readers, but the older ones who loved Finding Violet Park and Broken Soup will enjoy it just as much. It has a very raw emotional honesty about it that is tempered past heartbreak by a vivid imagination and wonderful sense of humour. It's about coming to terms with ourselves and about learning that mistakes, however critical, don't have to blight entire lives.
The ragtag assortment of misfits at 33 Georgiana Street - and I've not told you about them all by any means - are absolutely unforgettable. Sometimes their lives are seedy, but there is a great deal of poetry in them, too. If I had to find a reference for you, I'd say the whole thing feels like the Shane Meadows film Once Upon a Time in the Midlands - completely gorgeous, utterly charming, funny, sweet, sad, and underneath it all, very, very real.
My thanks to the nice people at Harper Collins for sending the book.
Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray is also a voyage of redemption and just as wonderful to read. Black Rabbit Summer by Kevin Brooks has similar themes, and will suit the older teenagers. If they like this emotionally honest but quirky style, I think they would also enjoy After the Flood by L S Matthews.
Jenny Valentine was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
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