Book review: We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan

The book:

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan
Published in 2017 by Bloomsbury Children
Pages: 366

My copy: Library

The blurb:

Jess would never have looked twice at Nicu if her friends hadn’t left her in the lurch. Nicu is all big eyes and ill-fitting clothes, eager as a puppy, even when they’re picking up litter in the park for community service. He’s so not her type. Appearances matter to Jess. She’s got a lot to hide.

Nicu thinks Jess is beautiful. His dad brought Nicu and his mum here for a better life, but now all they talk about is going back home to find Nicu a wife. The last thing Nicu wants is to get married. He wants to get educated, do better, stay here in England. But his dad’s fists are the most powerful force in Nicu’s life, and in the end, he’ll have to do what his dad wants.

As Nicu and Jess get closer, their secrets come to the surface like bruises. The only safe place they have is with each other. But they can’t be together, forever, and stay safe – can they?

My thoughts…

I have enjoyed Crossan’s other novels – particularly Apple and Rain – so I was looking forward to reading this one when I found it in the library.

Jess comes from a troubled home, and has to complete a course of community service clearing up a local park when she is caught shoplifting. Also on the course is Nicu – recently arrived from Romania and desperate to escape an arranged marriage. The two very slowly and cautiously become friends – with devastating consequences.

Like Crossan’s other books, this book is written in verse, and told in alternate chapters from each of the two main characters’ points of view. The style of writing creates an extremely quick read (you can easily get through this in an hour or two), and it also means that we get straight to the point – there is no superfluous description or rambling. Instead the action is very immediate. However, on the downside, this does sometimes make you feel like everything happens too quickly and you have little time to really get to know the characters or relate to any of them – and you definitely don’t get to know anything about the peripheral characters at all.

The friendship that develops between Jess and Nicu is very sweet, and it’s hard not to fall a bit for Nicu, who is kind and sensitive. Jess, on the other hand, isn’t so easy to like, and this contrast works well. And as we find out a bit more about her, it is easy to see why she is more cautious and suspicious than Nicu. 

I have quite mixed feelings about this book overall. Although I liked the two main characters and the relationship between them, the style of the novel makes it a bit too short for me to have invested anything in them – although I appreciate I am not the intended audience and that young adult readers may well like this shorter style. But I did finish the book feeling a bit indifferent – and considering what the characters went through I probably should have cared a bit more!

I also found some of the descriptions of north London life unconvincing . The novel is set in the present day (Brexit crops up several times), yet it felt like the residents of Wood Green, and the students in Jess and Nicu’s school, had never seen an eastern European before. It didn’t feel like the realities of living in a hugely diverse and mixed city were well portrayed at all. Also, I haven’t seen anyone selling travelcards outside tube stations, as the characters in the book do, for about ten years – again this small detail bugged me as it made me question how well the authors actually know the city where the novel is set.

But overall this was a very easy read and I liked that the ending left some questions unanswered and wasn’t a typically happy conclusion. I also liked the two main characters and their friendship. I definitely think this is a thought-provoking book for 13-14 year olds. 

My rating: 6 out of 10

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