Saturday 20 July 2019

The Words That Fly Between Us: Gripping coming-of-age story with dark, timely themes

Fiction: The Words That Fly Between Us

Sarah Carroll,

Simon and Schuster, €8.99

Sarah Carroll's second novel is thoughtful and engaging. Photo: David Conachy
Sarah Carroll's second novel is thoughtful and engaging. Photo: David Conachy
The Words That Fly Between Us

Sophie White

This pacy YA novel from acclaimed Irish author Sarah Carroll is primarily about the power of words. Carroll, a writer with absolute command of this power, sets her second work of literary YA in an affluent Irish Georgian square, home to developers, bankers and the elite. It is the polar opposite landscape to the backdrop of her first book, the Irish Book Award-nominated The Girl In Between, in which 10-year-old Sam navigates the bleak reality of her life as the daughter of a homeless woman with substance abuse issues.

The worlds may be wildly different but each captures the essence of those years on the cusp of adolescence when childish wisdom is routinely dismissed and many of us feel roundly ignored. In Carroll's first book, her heroine is excluded and marginalised by society, in The Words That Fly Between Us, it is the main character Lucy's father who ignores his only daughter, callously disregarding her passion for art and generally using her and her mother as emotional punching bags to vent his stress and anger. With the first day at secondary school just weeks away, Lucy is learning the power of words, the ones we say and the ones we don't.

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The dialogue in Carroll's absorbing prose is like an additional character in and of itself. Words jolt between characters in barely concealed fury, they whisper softly from a soothing note stuck between the pages of a book. Words pull and drag at Lucy and her mother in the tense luxury in which they live. "All the words that were said tonight, all the jokes and opinions and stories that don't matter any more, slide out of the open door and dissolve into the breeze. Only the heavy ones stay," says Lucy in the wake of a fretful party entertaining her father's business associates.

She is a compelling central character. She, like all artists, is a committed observer of human nature. She is resilient but also haunted by a creeping dread as her parents' relationship becomes more and more acrimonious. She makes a sanctuary of sorts in the attic of her house and discovers that all the grand houses on her terrace are linked by the attic space.

She creates a safe haven there and observes the lives around her, from the mysterious ways of her reclusive neighbour to her best friend Megan's torment at the hands of a bullying frenemy and her mother's apparent compliance in the face of her father's unpredictable rages.

Through her solitary observation, Lucy becomes the unwilling bearer of secrets. She overhears damning truths about her father but feels burdened by the knowledge. She longs to right the wrongs she has witnessed from the pre-teen cruelties Megan suffers, to her father's shady business dealings, but feels powerless until she realises her secret hideout could be the means to expose these injustices.

Lucy is a brilliant YA character, highly individual, wholly herself and determined not to kowtow to peer pressure - I would've sincerely appreciated a Lucy among my pre-teen heroines. Through the novel, she realises that observing from a remove is no way to live.

A bold intervention by this fearless and engaging protagonist changes the course of all their lives and will inspire young readers to stand up for what's right.

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