I have enjoyed all of Lisa Jewell’s books mainly for her characterisation and once again in The Girls the people that live in Virginia Terrace and Crescent were the kind that I felt I’d met, I knew these people, so authentically are they portrayed.
After the characters comes the story and this is a dark one, and to my mind one of her best. Clare has moved into one of the terraces with her two girls, just a year apart at eleven and twelve. Why they are there and who they are hiding from soon becomes clear and although Grace and Pip have been through a lot in the last few months it isn’t long before they get drawn to the gang of youngsters in communal gardens. Although this is a story that largely centres on tweens and teens, and is set in London, this is a gang in the old-fashioned sense, a group of youngsters who hang out together and don’t go home in time for tea.
These gardens sound amazing covering a large area with open areas and more secluded ones. A playground offers the youngsters somewhere to meet in the summer evenings while the Rose Garden is a place to think, complete with a bench in memory of Phoebe, a girl who lived thirty years previously and died in the gardens.
The residents are a great mix, there are the family who home-school complete with a diabetic grandfather, the elderly war refugee who has stories to tell, a social worker and her neglected daughter. When Grace and Pip get invited into Adele and Leo’s apartment by their three daughters Catkin, Fern and Willow it would seem that the gang in the garden will expand to absorb the two new-comers but Pip is unsure, she’s seen and heard things that make her feel uncomfortable.
The book contains Pip’s thoughts in touching letters to her father who is away, here she pours out her thoughts on the new house complete with little illustrations, I especially loved the one of Rhea’s rabbit which is taken for walks by Pip while the rest of the youngsters gather together. As Grace’s thirteenth birthday approaches the gap between the sisters noticeably widens particularly as Grace becomes enamoured with one of the boys and Pip is nowhere ready for love complications in her life. With their mother Clare learning to acclimatise to their new home and her past, Grace is allowed the freedom to roam in the safety of the gardens. But there is danger out there camouflaged amongst the beauty and the close community.
Lisa Jewell has structured the book in such a way that because she tells us at the beginning that something has happened to one of the sisters, and then presents the characters, it became impossible not to be suspicious of every single one. Because of this, some of the delightful scenes described have long shadows cast over them in a way that I’m sure they wouldn’t had the book been told in a strictly linear fashion. With the similarities between Phoebe’s death and this new incident, comparisons are made and whispers are spread like greenfly on the roses in the garden, not helped when old secrets spill out creating conflict.
Lisa Jewell is one of my favourite authors and her later books have turned much darker without losing their brightly coloured characters. You won’t find much in the way of stereotypes in these novels but they are realistic, parts of her characters are always instantly recognisable from the efficient and loving mother Adele, to the more nervous and diffident Clare, from Leo who exudes bonhomie to Rhea who is unable to shrug off the past. You really should meet them all too!
The Girls is published today, 2 July 2015 by Random House UK who I’d like to thank for allowing me to read this book in return for this review.
My favourite Lisa Jewell books:
click on the covers to read my reviews
Lisa Jewell Novels
• The Girls (2015)
• The Third Wife (2014)
• The House We Grew Up In (2013)
• Before I Met You (2012)
• The Making Of Us (2011
• After The Party (2010)
• The Truth About Melody Browne (2009)
• 31 Dream Street (2007)
• Vince and Joy (2005
• A Friend of the Family (2004)
• One Hit Wonder (2001)
• Thirtynothing (2000)
• Ralph’s Party (1999)