The List of Real Things

9781444014815

Grace knows the difference between what’s real and the strange ideas that float around in her little sister’s mind.

Their parents died – that’s real.

A secret hotel on the cliff-top where their parents are waiting – definitely NOT real.

So when grief strikes again, Grace is determined not to let her sister’s outlandish imagination spiral out of control. But the line between truth and fantasy is more complicated than it seems…

This was a quick read, but a thoroughly enjoyable one. A real one-sitting-somewhere-comfy-with-a-cup-of-coffee-and-cake sort of book.

Yes, some of what was likely to happen was easy to guess early on, but the how, where and why of it wasn’t. And, yes, the secondary characters felt like a slightly predictable assortment at times, but a wonderfully endearing assortment at that: a bit like when you get a box of chocs – you expect to find a caramel, a strawberry, a truffle, a praline etc. …there’s no real surprises, but that’s because it works and it’s what we want. It also gave the main characters and their very well-drawn and unique personalities chance to shine.

The story is told from Grace’s point of view: she’s 14 and since their parents died has been her little sister, Bee’s most loyal and caring protector. But as she starts to become interested in make-up, boys and popularity, she finds herself increasingly conflicted between her absolute love of and concern for Bee, and being embarrassed and annoyed by both Bee and her unconventional, not-especially-well-off family life.

It’s a testament to how well Grace was written that she drove me nuts at times: she’s a teenage girl starting to push away from her family and find her place, if she wasn’t frustrating and at times incredibly dislikeable, she wouldn’t have been at all believable.

I thought the challenges she was facing were very well written: trying to be the grown up one, looking out for her sister and taking on too much at times, whilst simultaneously struggling with all the usual teen issues too: belonging, friendships, fitting in and, of course, boys. I loved seeing her mature and find herself as the book progressed.

Bee herself was a wonderfully quirky and loveable character. 6 going on 60, her best friends are her Grandfather and the eccentric old librarians the Misses Allen. Which perhaps explains her rather odd way of speaking, even odder mannerisms and the very strange ideas she has which may or may not be real…

…which leads us to the fantasy element of the book. This is by and large a contemporary piece of fiction, set in the everyday lives of Bee and Grace as they come to terms with deaths in the family. However, when Bee starts talking to the family dog, seeing ghosts and trying to find out about an old hotel that absolutely does not exist any more, what’s real and what’s not becomes increasingly blurred.

And this leads us in turn to my only sticking point with this book, which is the age it is aimed at. As an MG book I thought the fantasy element was very effective, both as part of the plot and as a way of tackling the more sensitive issues of loss and grief that the book covers. Similarly, the characters themselves and the way the issues the family are facing are touched on but not really delved into in great depth felt just right for MG readers, but Young Adults may be left wanting a bit more.

So, although it’s technically YA, but I would say it sits much more comfortably at the top end of MG or as a good bridge between the two. I don’t like to pigeon-hole books into age and this is an enjoyable regardless that I’m by no means writing off for older readers (I’m in my mid-30s so categorically not MG or YA!). But, I’m also conscious that a lot of teen readers expect certain things from contemporary YA fiction and a lot of young readers and their families can find it hard to know what to read as they start to want to move on from just MG books.

So, I mention the age thing as a guide and as something which struck me as I read it with my bookseller hat on. Whatever your age, it is a great read to settle in for and consume all t ones (a bit like those chocolates I mentioned earlier!) and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s books to add to my TBR pile!

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