We Come Apart

Buy WE COME APART by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan

Ever since Jess’s brother Liam left, her and her mother’s lives have become irredeemably miserable, with her mother’s boyfriend Terry forcing Jess to film him as he beats hell out of her mum. Terrified, but just as terrified of letting that show, Jess has no one to talk to, no one to ask for help. Nobody listens when you’re a poor kid living on a dead-end estate, not even the best friend who lands you in trouble to save herself.

Nicu does not go to school, but then, Nicu does not do most things that other teenagers in Britain do. His Romany parents aren’t planning to stay in London for long. Indeed, as soon as they can arrange a marriage for Nicu, they’re going back home. In the meantime Nicu can help his dad selling scrap metal – some of which might not actually be theirs to sell. Duly caught, Nicu is forced to go to school, but also do community service, where he meets a similarly isolated girl named Jess.

This is a romance with sharp teeth. It’s not really about love, but about how two people are driven together from circumstances that couldn’t be more different on the surface, and who are both trying to tear themselves away from an existence they can’t tell anyone about – except each other.

I’m not so cynical about novels written in blank verse since reading Sarah Crossan’s One late last year. This one has more grit and edge than One, perhaps brought out by her collaboration with When Mr Dog Bites author Brian Conaghan. I don’t know who wrote what, whether they each took a character, or worked on both together, but it works seamlessly.

The ending is a bit abrupt, but probably appropriate. Jess and Nicu’s stories could continue, but they’d go somewhere new, and that’s not what this novel’s about. I wouldn’t mind reading that one, though, even if there are no plans to ever write it.

When Mr Dog Bites

Sixteen-year-old Dylan Mint has Tourette’s, which automatically makes this the most profane teen novel I’ve ever read. However, it’s not just a whistle-stop tour of a little understood syndrome, because at the beginning of When Mr Dog Bites, Dylan overhears a doctor telling his mum that life as Dylan knows it will end in only a few months’ time.

Fearful of his impending demise, Dylan quickly sketches out his bucket list. The internet is no use here, despite offering hundreds of suggestions, because Dylan doesn’t want to go skydiving naked, and he would much rather have sex for the first time in a bed instead of on a train. (Naturally, that one goes top of the list.) With so much to do but so little time, Dylan decides to limit the list to three goals, and the others involve finding a replacement best friend for his autistic mate Amir, and finding a way to get his dad back from serving in Iraq before one of them dies.

Of course, it’s just possible that Dylan’s jumping to conclusions has launched him into his own little comedy of errors.

The comparisons with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time are obvious. Like Christopher Boone, Dylan is quite endearingly innocent to begin with, and the story follows his journey as he discovers the complexities of adult life. He’s basically a normal teenager with an unusual perspective on the world due to his condition, and ultimately this ends up not a novel about Tourette’s, but a story about wanting to fit in.

There’s grimness (well, it is set in a rough part of Glasgow) and sadness en route, but it ends up being quite sweet and funny. It demystifies Tourette’s, makes it seem less odd, thanks to its brilliantly written narrator.