I just can’t tell how I feel about this book. Maybe it’s because I started reading it on my phone and didn’t get a proper sense of the intended audience. In any case I felt that the characters lacked development, their treatment by Condon was patronising, I couldn’t identify with the setting and the plot was overly driven by conversation. Then, about three-quarters in, I found myself really looking forward to picking it up again and, in rereading some parts of it in order to write this review, I was struck by how ungenerous my first impressions were.
I’m not the only one who was perplexed by this book, the ladies at Young Adult Anonymous found it a bit perplexing too. Not in an every-character-in-this-book-has-a-Swedish-name-starting-with-the-letter-‘b’ type of way but just a little bit confused by the packaging. And it is confusing. So is the introduction.
This book has an annoying start. Tiff is supposed to be some sort of intellectual but the tone of the book is so down-to-earth as to be practically subterranean. A burst of self-loathing sees her destroy poor Mrs Muir’s sunflowers because of the way that she reacted to a boy in the library. Oh, so this is one of those unbearable love stories, you think. Then she returns home to find some old guy who lives at her house (stepfather?) obviously dying of cancer but maintaining a stiff upper lip. Oh, so this is one of those tragic family stories, you think. But it is kind of neither.
A straight line to my heart is like listening in to someone’s conversation on the train – at the start of the journey you are a bit annoyed by how loud they are talking, a few stations in you have started to take sides in their story then, and then, when you walk from the train to the tram stop you strategically position yourself next to them so that you can hear how it ends.
The story is developed in the same way. Condon really knows his characters and at first you are totally at sea as to who is who. Eventually you lose hope of trying to work it out and just ride the wave as it approaches the treacherous rocks on the headland. Here is what I got from it:
The main character, Tiff, lives with her father, Bull, or maybe he is her brother or something. I get the distinct feeling that he is in some way related to Regie (who also lives in the house) but I can’t tell if Bull is middle-aged and therefore his son or younger and maybe not his son. They do in any case all reside under the same roof and Regie seems to be the Padre de Familia (although, since he has some terrible disease, maybe he is the Grandpadre de Familia or maybe, since he lives in the country he isn’t that old at all and is just suffering from the great burden of disease enjoyed by those who live away from the city). I won’t even begin to go into the family tree of Tiff’s friend Kayla but let’s just say that Condon has on no way scrimped in our helping of unconventional homes.
Being a through-and-through city-slicker I am totally prejudiced against the small-town setting of this book. Because they are all playing rugby and bashing each other up and working on cars and hanging out in cemeteries I am, like, why is this book so shallow, why don’t the characters have any depth, where in this small hamlet can I pretend to find a latte in a rustic cafe with local artworks on the wall? But I worked through it and by the end I was distinctly enjoying how bogan it all was.
Condon has managed to create a real creeper of a book that will reward a good read or possibly two. It is not obvious, the writing is occasionally very cliché (but hey, so are teenagers) and the whole thing is very colloquial. These left me with really mixed feelings about the book. Mixed feelings are good.