Friday, March 12, 2010

Review: Another Life Altogether

Set in the English provinces in the 1970s, this novel tells the story of Jesse Bennett, a troubled teenager trying to hide her mother's mental illness from the cruelty of her classmates. Deep in the throes of manic depression, Jesse's mother alternates among the local mental hospital, her bed, and tearing apart the family. Jesse's father copes by ignoring the issue, and leaves Jesse home to manage the house and her mother. A move to the countryside has vaulted Jesse into the popular clique at her new school, but her new friends are profoundly cruel to outsiders, especially Malcolm, an openly gay student. To complicate Jesse's life she develops a tremendous crush on her best friend's sister, and begins to realize that she might be a lesbian. Family, sexuality, and basic human decency wreak havoc on Jesse's conscience, as she tries to rationalize her relationship with her cruel but powerful new clique. This novel brings into stark relief the rigid social hierarchies and cruelty of high school. Jesse's story makes clear how easy it is for children to get lost. It also reminds the reader that for all of the problems and injustices that remain, we have made some real progress in educating children about sexuality. The ending was abrupt and unbelievable, but I enjoyed the reading.

Elaine Beale, Another Life Altogether (Spiegel and Grau, 2010) ISBN: 0385530048

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