Seldom do you come across a debut novel that has such an impact as “Home“. Written entirely from the viewpoint of a tiny, four-year-old girl, the novel touches on issues with important social observations. At first I was taken aback by the way she spoke, but after a few pages I could actually hear her little voice, and the pages flew by.
Jesika Petrowski lives is a run-down, derelict apartment building. She lives with her Mummy, Tina, and her baby brother, Toby. Their flat is a damp, squalid place with broken windows, mould on the walls, an oven that doesn’t work, and heating that is undependable. In her innocence, Jesika draws pictures on the wall by joining up the dots of mould.
“…our house is shivery-cold and all our breathing is coming out of our mouths like smoke.”
Jesika’s mother, Tina Petrowski, is a tragic figure. A young woman with no family support, she is forced to rely on strangers for help. And help she needs. With no financial help from the children’s father (who has returned to their native Poland to live), her despair is palpable. Both she and her baby son, Toby have chest infections and Toby’s condition is worsening on a daily basis. He coughs and coughs until he vomits up his milk. Tiny lives up many flights of stairs and must haul Toby’s ‘buggy’ up and down those stairs every time she goes out. She has to go out a lot as there are no laundry facilities in the building and Jesika attends preschool in the afternoons. Feeling poorly and despondent, her temper is sometimes shorter than it should be.
“Mummy does big noisy swallowing and then she says, “There’s no one to help, Jesika. I’m on my own and no one can do anything for us and I don’t know how much more I can take.”
Jesika’s innocent observations make for many bittersweet moments. Her simple joy at being fed jam sandwiches, a kindly grocer who pulls a ‘magic’ strawberry from behind her ear, the beautiful rainbow she finds in an oily puddle during a rainstorm.
Sometimes, because Toby is poorly, Jesika’s Mummy cuddles him more that she cuddles Jesika, which makes the little girl jealous and sad.
“Mummy only wants to cuddle Toby”.
Jesika makes friends with Paige at preschool. But Paige has troubles of her own – dire troubles indeed…
Then, just when you thought circumstances for the little family couldn’t get any worse, baby Toby is rushed by ambulance to the hospital. Whilst there, Tina is also diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted – leaving young Jesika to go into foster care.
“I have to live somewhere else and it might be so so far away that Mummy will never find me.”
Jesika’s overwhelming fear of abandonment is understandably escalated by these traumatic events. She waffles between fearing her mother will never come back, to the childish certainty that she WILL come back.
“Mummy is coming back to get me. She’s coming to get me when she’s not poorly. She won’t make me find a new Mummy cos I’ll be helpful and good and I’ll never shout at her ever, ever, ever again and I’ll always eat all my pasta even with no cheese. She’s coming to get me soon. She is.”
The story, told in the innocent and naive voice of Jesika is heart-rending to the adult reader who views it with an all too vivid clarity.
The book succeeds on a variety of fronts. It causes the reader to have more empathy for young children, as we quickly forget what it is like to live in the world as a child sees it. It strikes upon many socially relevant issues: poverty, low-income housing, child abuse, etc.
All-in-all, I loved Jesika’s story and recommend it to all who appreciate fiction that at once entertains and educates. “Home” spotlights the very best, and the very worst, of human nature. Didactic and heart-breaking, yet heart-warming. Even though tears will likely be shed, “Home” is still a lovely read.
I am honoured to be writing this review as part of the official Transworld blog tour. My thanks to Transworld (Penguin UK) via NetGalley for providing me with the opportunity to read “Home” for both enjoyment and review purposes.
Amanda Berriman was born in Germany and grew up in Edinburgh, reading books, playing music, writing stories and climbing hills. She works as a primary school teacher and lives on the edge of the Peak District with her husband, two children and dogs.