This is the second book that I have read by Ewa Jozefkowicz and I have to say that she has rapidly joined my list of favourite writers. This beautifully written and structured story within a story goes straight to the heart of identity, with its theme of unlocking the barriers that we put up to hide our true selves, even from those closest to us.
As regular readers of my blog will know, mystery novels are my genre of choice, and this contemporary tale of a twelve-year-old girl desperately seeking clues to unlock the location of her beloved elder brother had me hooked from page one. The story opens with Flick ( the narrator) trying to solve one of the complex puzzles that her older brother Jack habitually sets for her. The author has cleverly planted clues to the narrative within this opening puzzle, and this is just one of the details of Ewa Jozefowicz’s writing which I loved.
Jack has just completed his A levels, in which he has astonished his parents by performing very well given their perception of him as a practical joker who has not applied himself to his studies in the way they would have wished. His father expects Jack to follow him into a career as a barrister and a law degree beckons once Jack returns from his gap year in South America. Flick is determined to treasure the remaining moments with Jack, realising that not only will she miss him while he travels, but she will see far less of him once he starts at university. Their relationship is cemented in the reader’s mind as one of love and mutual respect and encouragement.
Jack departs and Flick’s life continues as before, with her school days allowing us a glimpse of her hidden talent as a writer. Her class are set the task of writing a detective story and as Flick reads the opening of her composition aloud to her classmates you feel their incredulity at the quality of her historical story “The Case of the Beret and the Bell.” As she reaches the cliffhanger at which the young heroine Margot has disappeared in a huge London crowd she is summoned to the head teacher’s office to hear that Jack has been reported missing following an earthquake in Peru. The writing aches with the devastation and helplessness felt by Flick’s family.
What follows is a tightly plotted and compelling unfolding of clues as Flick, assisted by her best friend Keira, seeks information about her brother’s location and in so doing uncovers the hidden details of his life. Starting from the key that he has always worn around his neck and which he has left in his room addressed to S.F., they track down all of his acquaintances who share those initials. At every turn Flick is able to unlock details of his personality from the heroic tales that each person recounts. In Flick’s words, “even the people you know well can be a cryptic puzzle.” In tandem with seeking her brother, Flick continues to write her historical story. The dual narratives of being true to your own desires and talents and having the courage to be honest about your identity in the face of the expectations of those closest to you are explored sensitively and movingly. Flick lives up to her brother’s childhood nickname for her, and Jack’s actions demonstrate that there is great importance in their grandmother’s elegant motto, “Don’t forget to live.”
In summary, this heartwarming tale of unfolding identity is equally enjoyable for adult and child readers of 9+. I read it as an eARC thanks to #NetGalley and Head of Zeus Publishing but I will definitely want to obtain a physical copy as soon as one is available. This book is due to be published on 3rd September 2020.
My review of Girl 38: Finding a Friend by the same author is here.