Once I started reading this book, I actually didn’t want to put it down. I nearly read the whole thing at a sitting and only dragged myself away from it because I had to. It’s quite a skill to pull someone that far into a narrative. Even though I thought I’d guessed early on who was ‘responsible’ for Charity’s pregnancy, the twists and uncertainty kept me guessing, and it become a need rather than a want to get to the revelation.
In the first part of the novel the central character Joanne is sidelined by her burgeoning love of Charity in a way that will be very familiar to many who have experienced similar ‘passions’ (be they hetero or homo sexual). But it’s really not Charity’s story and in Part Two there’s a subtle shift, adding more depth and dimension that I imagined possible and yet making the whole tale even more plausible.
Joanne lives in Charity’s shadow. She’s captivated by Charity from the first moment she meets her yet it is Joanne’s story that ultimately is every bit as interesting and sad as Charity’s. It was better than fiction because it was hard not to see it as fact. I believed the story at every stage. Clearly drawn from a powerful combination of personal experience and painstaking research (the marks of a good novel) Joanne’s teenage angst is palpable, poignant and quite compelling.
There’s a quite complex exploration of how people’s live intertwine and affect each other and the consequences and fall out are moving and disturbing. Tom and Charity illustrate how people can ‘fool’ themselves when they can’t face the truth of their emotions or situations.
The exploration of the points of connection between sexual abuse, power, control and religion are strong stuff and it’s a tribute to the writer that through the mouthpiece of Joanne this never feels too full on or ‘adult’… and so the novel is actually quite appropriate as a YA read as well. Perhaps it best illustrates the folly of too tightly labelling a novel because far from falling between two stools, it certainly finds its place in both adult and YA fiction without compromise.
The complications of secret and illicit passion are revealed in a variety of situations throughout the novel – relationships between Joanne and Charity, Tom and Louise, Charity and her father, Joanne and her mother and aunt among others, serve to deal with family problems, sexual awakening and the uncertainty of identity and religious faith that are so central to the teenage experience. Joanne never becomes too wise for her age, never steps over the line of her own understanding and this adds significantly to the poignancy of the novel.
The vulnerability inherent in religious belief is carefully and bravely drawn and redolent with echoes of reality. Anyone who had a teenage experience be that with the Moonies or evangelical Church of England (or anything in between) will recognise the characters and the dilemmas faced by Joanne.
Rosalie Warren writes with intelligence, compassion and insight about a very difficult subject. I’m really looking forward to her next book.
Reviewed by Cally Phillips
Charity’s Child is available in Kindle format
Find out more about Rosalie Warren
Rosalie appears at the First Edinburgh Ebook Festival in Writers Pieces (Aug 23) and Auld Lums (Aug 26)