This was one of the books that had multiple mentions and recommendations across the threads of Twitter regarding amplifying black voices. For one of the book challenge prompts, I needed a book that included a school, so changed my reading choice to pick this book. Before I go any further, I want to include a major trigger warning for child abuse and implied sexual assault. I won’t be going into details in this review, but please be aware when it comes to reading this book, as I wish I had been warned in advance.
Claudia only has one friend – Monday Charles. So when she doesn’t turn up for school one day, she’s curious. And when it’s the next, and the next, and the next, she starts to worry. And investigate. As she does, it becomes apparent that maybe her friend hasn’t been telling her the truth about her life, and about what goes on behind the doors to her home, that she has never allowed Claudia to enter. Claudia is determined to get to the bottom of the matter, and to find Monday, no matter how long it takes.
The chapters are titled a variation of “before” and “after”, with no real understanding of why, to begin with. As the book starts to progress, it becomes clearer why these titles are chosen, though it’s not cleared up entirely until closer to the end. No spoilers, but I will say that I didn’t see the explanation coming, and I’m still not entirely sure it made sense.
The bullying that Claudia is subjected to is horrifying, but also very realistic to secondary schools (or high schools). It was horrible to see it so vividly represented, but at the same time, it was a relief to see bullying being actually shown. The two-faced behaviour and back stabbing antics of the students throughout their school careers, alongside the desperation Claudia and Monday feel to get away, is so important to present in fiction format, demonstrating just how unacceptable it is. The homophobic nature of some of the bullying is even more important to show; this bullying happens day in, day out in schools around the world, and we need to challenge it.
I found it difficult to read about both the bullying and neglect very difficult to read about, but these things shouldn’t be easy to think about; it’s the very fact they make us uncomfortable that breathes the awareness. However that doesn’t make it any more pleasant, and I would repeat my trigger warning again here, as the abuse and conclusion are not things to read about if you have had any experience of childhood trauma. I don’t know how I feel about the young adult rating of the book; I understand these issues being addressed for teenagers, but equally some of the moments in this book are so harrowing they would be more at place in an adult book.
I would be hesitant to refer anyone in the direction of this book unless I knew them well, purely for the amount of triggers within it, and I almost wish I had found another book featuring a school, but at the same time, I’m glad to have met Claudia as a character, to have seen her grow and change and heal, and fight so very fiercely for the friend she loved.