Review published on March 17, 2017.
This is such a wonderful book and an excellent collaboration between two YA authors I’ve admired and read before.
Sarah Crossan writes beautifully in verse – it can feel like poetry but when read aloud (I listened to an audio version), it simply sounds like a story in short chapters. Brian Conaghan, I assume, took Nicu’s story, while Crossan took Jess’s, though I may be wrong.
This short novel reminded me of Crossan’s debut, The Weight of Water, since they are both short novels with rather dark hearts, and the topics of racism and intolerance are at the forefront.
Jess has a troubled family life. Nicu, no less so, but as an immigrant, he has other problems as well. Both end up as young offenders on a community scheme where they gradually become friends and very close, sharing their secrets and forming a strong attachment. It all must come to a head though – can they make their own happy ending?
There are some quite upsetting scenes both in the teenagers’ family lives and at school, of abuse, violence and bullying. Jess grows more as a person than Nicu, as she sees how he is treated and must decide on which side she will stand, while Nicu must brave the storm as he valiantly tries to get on with his life in a strange country.
Both feel very real. Jess talks like a real teenager, the narrator bringing her to life manages to make her sound vulnerable, world-weary at times, but still a young streetwise girl who is trying to find her way. Nicu is also voiced well, his imperfect grasp of English still conveys his intelligence and moral nature, his adolescent feelings for Jess: all teenagers at heart at very similar, whatever language they speak.
The story doesn’t let the teens off easily, nobody gets an easy get-out-of-jail card, the problems of both families don’t go away, bullies don’t miraculously see the light. It’s a short book, but it packs a mighty punch and until the last pages you really don’t know how it is going to end.
A dual narrative splits the story equally between the two, back and forth, we sometimes see the same scene from both perspectives, which only deepens the sympathy for Nicu ‘the outsider’ as he contends with ignorance and prejudice.
The verse style means the book speeds by. I wanted more at the end, I wanted to find out what happens next – maybe it’s a story the authors can return to, pick up again later in the lives of Jess and Nicu. It’s certainly a relevant theme that needs to be read.
Two excellent narrators on the audiobook make both leads come to life, with great voices and accents, pitched right at the ages of the characters.
I love both these authors and found this to be a powerful and moving collaboration, which works very well as an audiobook, as it would on paper.
Katy Noyes 5/5
We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan
Bloomsbury Childrens Audiobook Feb 2017