Chrissie Banks lives with her Mammy and she is eight years old. Her Mammy does not love her, has never loved her. In fact, Chrissie has never known affection in her short life. She is always, always, hungry and her Mammy does not feed her or want her around. She has never had new clothes, never had a present, even on Christmas and her birthday. Her Da visits occasionally when he is not ‘inside’. Her Mammy said that he was dead one time he was gone, but he came back after a month or two. He gave Chrissie a marble, her only toy – her only possession.
Her clothes are dirty. She has no real friends – except for Linda. But Linda’s Mammy does not really want her around because Chrissie gave Linda nits. Also, things seem to disappear when Chrissie is around… food, pennies… The only thing that Chrissie likes about school is the milk and the school dinners. Without those she would probably starve.
“Sometimes I wondered if the hunger could have stopped my brain growing the way normal brains grew, because I had never had any sustenance to make into new cells.”
Chrissie knows that her life is not FAIR! Other kids have Mammies who love them. They have food to eat and toys. All she knows is that she does not have any of these things, her stomach hurts from the hunger, and she is angry. She is not easy to be around. She steals things, she is mean, she lashes out at everyone with kicks and pinches. And, when she is only eight years old, she strangles a two year old boy. Why? Because his Mammy loved him very much – and it wasn’t FAIR… Besides, Chrissie knows that when you’re dead, you can come back. Just like her Da, and Jesus.
“Da was dead for lots of weeks, but then I got back from school one day and he was in the kitchen, drinking a can of beer.”
Her situation was so dire, that the ‘Home’ they sent her to was a vast improvement over her life with her Mammy. She had food to eat, and people who were sometimes kind.
When she was old enough, they let her go – and Chrissie became pregnant.
Seldom have I encountered a protagonist quite as pitiable as Chrissie Banks. She was not an easy little girl. She could be vindictive, nasty, and bullying. While sometimes I found myself disliking her, at other times my heart broke for her. So young, so alone, so deprived, so hungry… People called Chrissie a ‘bad seed’, and she knew this was true.
The writing in this very dark, very disturbing, very chilling novel, was spectacular. The reader becomes immersed in Chrissie’s head, and that is not a comfortable place to reside. Both as a child, and as an adult, Chrissie has felt unworthy. When she has a daughter of her own, she feels that she does not deserve a child, because she has taken away another Mammy’s child. She tries very hard to be a good mother – though she has no experience of how motherhood is supposed to work. She is afraid that her daughter will turn out like she did.
The advice to writers is sometimes ‘write what you know’. “The First Day Of Spring“, is written with profound understanding and empathy that I can only hope that this novel is not a case where the author writes what ‘she knows’. Her portrayal of an unwanted, neglected, desperately unloved child is one which will haunt me forever.
A profoundly chilling and disturbing character study, this novel is deserving of all the stars…
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Cornerstone (Penguin Random House UK) via NetGalley after being invited to read and review by Hope Butler (Cornerstone).Publication date: February 17, 2022
ISBN: 9781529156478 – ASIN: B08LR8ZC7R – 400 pages
Nancy Tucker is a 22-year-old author and former nanny. She graduated from the University of Oxford with a degree in experimental psychology. The author of two nonfiction books, she also works in the mental health field in England. She lives in Oxford and London. “The First Day of Spring” is her first work of fiction.