Everyone thinks seventeen-year-old Noah Shaw has the world on a string. They’re wrong. Mara Dyer is the only one he trusts with his secrets and his future. He shouldn’t. And both are scared that uncovering the truth about themselves will force them apart. They’re right.
As a reader of the Mara Dyer trilogy which preceded this, the first of the Shaw Confessions, I can honestly say that Hodkin does not disappoint.
Through the course of the novel, Noah experiences the death of other Gifted teenagers, lives through the suffering of their last moments in a mystery which unravels as the narrative reaches a thrilling climax. I particularly like the key idea which runs through all the books that individuals suffering from mental health disorders are not defined by their diagnosis. Hodkin turns this idea on its head, instead suggesting that this affliction which makes sufferers powerless and ‘othered’ actually makes them powerful and gives them agency. Mara, who started out as a mentally unstable teenager is, by the end of her third book, one of the most capable and powerful characters in the narrative – and is feared because of it. It doesn’t feel too far-fetched to suggest that this draws an undeniable parallel with today’s society which even now shuns those with mental health issues for being different.
As is typical in this kind of narrative where an individual is not quite ‘human’ or ‘ordinary’, it becomes expected that the author will present a label for that character. Here, however, Noah is reluctant to refer to himself and the others in this way, quite eloquently musing ‘Gifted, Afflicted, Carriers, whatever the fuck we are’. The term Gifted is preferred throughout, but more for narrative purposes than for want of labelling these characters or categorising them in any real way. Instead, they just are what they are, have been through what they have been through, and don’t feel the need to explain themselves for the sake of others.
This novel offers a more in-depth look at Noah’s ‘gift’ and what it’s like for him to live with it. If we’re reading this as a glimpse into the life of someone living with a mental health disorder, then it becomes rather eye-opening to glean just how overwhelming the simplest situations become. Even standing in the same room as a couple of people, Noah is overwhelmed by so much noise. The emotional impact of being in a crowd of people is claustrophobic and deafening, and he spends most of the novel wanting to be alone and wanting to sleep just to have a little peace and quiet. The scale of the characters’ situations become very real in this novel; they are literally teenagers trying to cope with ‘Gifts’ that make them able to do things no one should be able to do, and they have no one they can go to for help other than to each other. If this is truly intended to be a glimpse into the life of someone with a mental health disorder, the loneliness and isolation of such an experience is really quite harrowing to read about, never mind to live with. One of the most poignant things I took away from this book was Noah’s insight into suicide from the instances he experiences first hand as other ‘Gifted’ characters take their own life: ‘What I understand that They-most everyone, really-don’t, is that suicide isn’t an act of selfishness’.
Noah is a very distinctive character in the series, and I’m glad Hodkin decided to further explore him in a series of his own. Everything from the disclaimer at the start to the crude comebacks scream of Noah, and there’s something fantastically inviting about his sarcastic, derisive tone as the narrator. Where this book develops on the Noah from the Mara Dyer trilogy, is that we see the exposed character behind those innuendos. We see the struggles he endures every day and the way he secretly doubts Mara’s intentions. And it’s a real rollercoaster: heart-breaking, laughable, comical and so much beyond that.
Hodkin’s description is certainly something which adds a touch of darkness to the narrative. Fluid snapshots of imagery help to enrich the narrative and paint vivid pictures in the reader’s mind which really help to make the story tangible. My hairs stood on end as I read of the boy’s body swinging in the abbey ruins.
And then there’s the relationship between Noah and Mara which will have compelled many readers of the original Dyer trilogy to get their hands on a copy of this book, and I doubt they will have been disappointed. There’s something spectacularly enticing about their relationship. It’s fiery but vulnerable in the same breath which makes for an interesting dynamic in the midst of so much upheaval within the text. Their connection runs deep but they don’t trust one another blindly. Noah still has reservations about how Mara chooses to use her ability, and Mara discovers that Noah is still keeping so many secrets from her. Ultimately, their relationship is real and flawed and uncertain, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that evolves over the course of this new series.
January Book Review: The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim