A Month with April-May, by Edyth Bulbring

Review published on May 28, 2013. Reviewed by Kirsty Hewitt

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[product sku=”9781471400292″]A Month with April-May is the first novel by bestselling South African author Edyth Bulbring to be printed in the United Kingdom. In this novel, the first in a series, she has created a rather quirky heroine named April-May February. (of her name, April-May says ‘I got called a calendar’). April-May is a teenager of undisclosed age, who has just won an academic bursary which allows her to attend the prestigious and ‘ultra-posh’ Trinity College in Johannesburg – or ‘Jozi’, as she calls it – in South Africa.

Of course, though, this transition into her new life does not run smoothly: ‘[There are some teachers who are] always asking stupid questions and trying to interfere in your life. They are teachers like Mrs Ho. I should have known from the first moment I met her, it was either me or Mrs Ho. One of us was going to have to go’. So begins the novel. After a scolding from the aforementioned Mrs Ho on her first day at Trinity College for not having the regulation school socks and satchel, April-May moves Mrs Ho ‘to the top’ of her ‘hit list’. Plans filled with revenge are consequently woven through the majority of the book.

As a character, April-May provides an interesting mixture of traits. She has made up ‘several rare and hard-to-diagnose diseases eleven times’ to try and bring her now divorced parents back together. She also has a ‘word for the day’, buys her father’s cigarettes so that she can try and control his addiction, and refers to herself as the ‘bursary kid’. April-May is bookish (well, to a point – she spends the entirety of this book longing to know what will happen at the end of Twilight) and is quite unlike her peers, in that, during a teacher-free lesson, she spends her time reading Twilight ‘while the rest of the class text each other’. She spends the majority of her time with a friend named Melanie, another loner type, whom the rest of the class seem relatively indifferent to. Whilst skipping her second day of school, she meets a boy whom she believes to be ‘Edward the vampire’ in a local park.

Bulbring has used the first person present tense perspective from the outset, which is a great tool for engaging the reader. Throughout, April-May’s narration is rather straightforward and matter-of-fact, and there are no holds barred with regard to anything in her life. She says things as she sees them, and that is perhaps the element of her as a character which has been best executed. Each chapter in A Month with April-May is rather short, and whilst the book is easy to dip in and out of, it is best to be read all in one go. The story itself is interspersed with ‘Cold Facts’, which relate to the narrative in some way – for example, the naming of children, the consumption of noodles and what ‘Breaking Heart Syndrome’ entails.

Many cultural references have been included throughout, and it is a nice touch that the book has been so heavily entrenched within South African society. There are mentions of ‘holding nickies’ (crossing your fingers behind your back), ‘bliksemming’, ‘gabbas’, ‘lekker’ and ‘skopped’. The meanings of such words are not always clear from the context which Bulbring uses them in, so luckily, a glossary has been included at the end of the story for the clueless overseas readers amongst us.

A Month with April-May also includes several of the problems which befall today’s young adults – how to act around boys and family members, how to try and make friends with peers who are entirely different to anything you are used to, how to survive at a new school, cliques and teasing. Some of these elements are sadly only touched upon, and the entire story does not feel developed enough to carry them along, or to inform Bulbring’s intended audience in any great way. However, the author does illustrate how complex people can be, and how our misunderstandings can be entirely wrong. She shows that there is always a reason for the way in which someone acts or appears. This is the definite strength of the book.

The Twilight references do become a little overpowering after just a few pages. It feels almost as though Bulbring has included them merely to make her book appeal to her intended audience, but they really aren’t necessary. If it wasn’t for the constant referencing of vampires and Edward Cullen’s ‘psychic sister Alice’, A Month with April-May would be far more engaging. It feels as though the author has endeavoured to give the book a similar feel to Louise Rennison’s ‘Confessions of Georgia Nicolson’ series at times, but the format and characters she has used are often not quite amusing enough to work. There is some humour in the book, but what there is of it is lacking any real definition. Our unreliable narrator switches from being believable to a rather unrealistic construct. The book ends rather abruptly, and there is no nice conclusion to the story. Bulbring has paved the way for a sequel as so many loose ends are left untied, but it really lacks the sparkle which other books of this genre seem to have. To conclude, A Month with April-May is a relatively entertaining read which will appeal to those looking for something quick and relaxed, but at times it tries too hard, and at others not hard enough.

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