Meet Greg, a teenage boy with a phobia of spiders or THEM as he refers to them, a social outcast, or the psycho as his classmates call him who has a kindly English teacher who suggests that he keeps a journal. The story told in that journal is a sad one as it documents days where he has no meaningful contact with anyone, including his family. At times the journal refers to events in the past, Greg has an ideal place, Finner’s Island somewhere that contains happier memories for him, but from excerpts from police interviews it becomes apparent that something happened on Finner’s Island way back in the past when Greg was a small boy.
This isn’t a bad book but nor does it deliver on the promise of the author of love and hope because I didn’t get either of these elements. The love aspect is Greg’s fixation with a girl, Alice. Now Alice barely seems to notice him for the majority of the story but despite that Greg details her father’s actions, he works with him at a butchers, spends nights in her garden feeding her dog Scraps and goes on bus journeys just to see her. Alice, like Greg appears to have some issues including family ones so I completely bought into the fact he was obsessed with her but love, no this wasn’t a love story. That brings us onto hope, this book made me feel sad, a family whose life was taken over by mental illness, a young boy who has no real hopes and dreams and from his journal we can assume that he is on strong medication. His father absents himself with work and women and his mother distracts herself with social climbing and decorating and his younger sister Sarah dances her way away from the misery in the house.
The writing is captivating to begin with, I wanted to know more about Greg and we get a sense of how he manages his phobia, school life and his part-time job courtesy of his parent’s wealthy friends all of which was excellently portrayed. The journal is broken up with some excerpts from the police interviews with his peers, family and teachers, and these gave a different view of this boy who was consumed with his own thoughts. I’m not a big fan of monologues and the format chosen didn’t give the writer any other possibility, I’m sure that this in part added to the feeling of claustrophobia of Greg’s world and for the reader to become immersed in it, but if I’m honest all the description and disjointed thoughts began to get too much for me and I just wanted some of the adults around him to get him some help. The only form of therapy he had was the chats with his teacher! Surely someone who had been diagnosed with a mental illness and was being medicated would have slightly more medical support?
In the last section of the book the writer picked up the pace, the journal style works so much better when there are actions to describe rather than just thoughts and I was keen to know, and understand, what happened!
I’m sure that this will be a popular read, there are lots of good points and the writer is clearly talented and has used his experiences as the ‘weird kid’ to write some affecting prose which would make an excellent choice for a book club read.
I’d like to thank the publishers Hodder & Stoughton for allowing me to read a proof copy of this book which was published on 15 January 2015.