When the body of pregnant, fifteen-year-old Hope Lacey is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised.
For Hope lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away…
As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking and distressing revelations … and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge.
There are some books that you just don’t know quite how to review and, for me, Sarah Stovell’s The Home is definitely one of them.
To say that I ‘enjoyed’ The Home seems…wrong somehow. Don’t get me wrong, the book had me absolutely gripped from page one and I was invested in the characters the whole way through, desperate to reach the final pages and find out the truth about what had happened to Hope, Annie and Lara.
But ‘enjoy’ isn’t quite the right word for a book that deals with such incredibly harrowing topics. Drug abuse, self-harm, child neglect, grooming, prostitution, sexual abuse – Stovell does not shy away from confronting these issues head-on. The result is a devastating portrayal of a teenage emotional drama and a heartbreaking look at the potential consequences for children forced to grow up in the underbelly of society.
The Home opens with the body of a fifteen-year-old being found on a cold Christmas morning. Another girl, still alive but half-mad with grief and despair, sits beside her. Thus we are introduced to Hope and Annie, two teenagers with disturbing shadows in their pasts who, despite everything, find love – and a kind of reconciliation – through and with each other. But now Hope is dead and Annie is in trouble. Who killed Hope? Who was the father of her unborn baby? And what does any of this have to do with Lara, a selective mute who makes up the third in the trio of damaged and difficult girls who live at The Home?
Answering these questions will take the reader on a shocking and emotive journey into the past and present of these three young women. From their childhoods, each fraught with violence in their own way, to their move into care and their relationships with each other, Stovell has crafted a complex and multi-layered narrative that wraps you up in the lives of Hope, Annie, Lara and the staff who have come, in their own ways, to care for the girls.
Told from multiple perspectives, Stovell has done an excellent job of giving each of the girls a voice – from Hope’s angry howl to Annie’s grief-stricken despair and Lara’s quietly devastating resilience, I felt like I knew these girls and could hear them in my head as I read.
Needless to say, given the subject matter, this does not always make for a very comfortable place to be. Indeed, at times The Home made my stomach churn and my skin crawl. Although the narrative is never graphic, Stovell’s writing fully conveys the horror of what these girls have faced and she confronts her emotive subject matter with devastating clarity.
And the emotional turmoil is heartbreaking – I could practically feel the potential stored in Hope, Lara and Annie but could sense how, because of their backgrounds, they were stuck; poised forever between hope and fear, love and despair. The interspersed chapters from Helen, the manager at The Home, provided the perfect counterpoint to this and illustrate the challenges faced by child protective services in a world dominated by ever-increasing challenges and ever-decreasing budgets.
Be under no illusions – The Home is a disturbing and, at times, difficult read so be prepared. But if you can handle the subject matter, you’ll find a gritty, gripping and exquisitely written novel that handles its emotive subject matter with both sensitivity and skill.
As I said at the start of this review, I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ it – much like Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, the subject matter makes The Home a book that the word just doesn’t fully encompass. I would say, however, that The Home is a brilliant, complex and emotionally invested read and that I would urge anyone who can handle the triggering subject matter to pick this one up.
The Home by Sarah Stovell is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers including the Orenda ebookstore, Hive, Book Depository, Waterstones, and Amazon.
My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until the end of the month so do check out some of the other stops for more reviews and content!