What a breath of fresh air! This is an amazing debut novel from Nicola Skinner with a mysterious plot which bursts into life and blooms with appreciation of the natural world.
In a corner of the grey concrete town of Little Sterilis there sits a literally, and metaphorically, broken home. Our reluctant heroine, Sorrel, lives with her mother in a house where the leaking taps seem to be crying and the “curtains were constantly pinging off their rods in some desperate escape mission.” The only way that Sorrel can cope with the sadness of her life is to be the best behaved pupil in her school, with boxes full of good behaviour certificates to prove the point. Her school Grittysnit Comprehensive perfectly mimics the town; a grey building containing pupils wearing grey uniforms, the Headteacher, Mr Grittysnit’s mantra is “May obedience shape you. May conformity mould you. May rules polish you.”
This ghastly man’s latest plan is to allow the school’s most generous benefactor, Mr Valentini the local construction magnate, to concrete over one of the last remaining green spaces in the town, the sports field, and construct a new examination hall. He has also introduced a new competition in the school to encourage the pupils to conform to his ideal of good behaviour, which Sorrel is determined to win at all costs – even risking her friendship with intelligent, scientific, rebellious Neena.
However, one evening a mini earthquake on Sorrel’s patio reveals a packet labelled “Surprising Seeds” and a mysterious voice begins talking to Sorrel. These manifestations eventually throw “the normal order of things upside out and inside down.” Firstly, in a town where gardening has ceased to exist, Sorrel and Neena have to track down Strangeways Garden Centre, where the down-at-heel owner, Sid gives them advice along with an old gardening trowel previously owned by Agatha Strangeways. An ancient book discovered in the school library named “The Terrible Sad History of Little Cherrybliss” and written by Agatha, brings the history of their town to light, and the sowing of the seeds has hilarious and unconventional results.
This book is an absolute riot of amusing wordplay, celebration of the natural world and a storyline that rampages faster than the bindweed in my vegetable patch. The friendship between Sorrel and Neena is brilliantly crafted, with their different personalities and motivations leading to misunderstandings and falling out in a very realistic way. I loved the image of Sorrel reflecting on a childhood photo of herself playing in a netted “soft play” centre under harsh electric lights and comparing this with Agatha’s childhood, playing outside in the meadows and the river. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book, with a school setting that anyone can relate to, accompanied by a dash of magic which highlights the joy of nature and green spaces, the need to embrace the wild and to protect the living world. A highly recommended book for anyone of 9+
This is #Book5 in my #20BooksofSummer created by Cathy at 746books.com