Title - Doll
Author: Nicky Singer
Released: March 3rd 2003
Taken from Goodreads.
A story of dark emotions and strange friendship, Doll is the eagerly awaited new title from Nicky Singer, following the triumph of her first children's book, Feather Boy. Tilly's biker mother gave Tilly a doll when she was on her deathbed. There is something strange about the doll, something dangerous -- something which brings Tilly into the path of Jan, a South American boy with his own problems. But there are questions that have not been answered. Is Tilly's mother really dead, or is there a more painful reason for her absence?
I picked up this book in Hay on Wye during the festival. It cost me a whopping £1 and I'd never heard of it before, so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. A glance at Amazon and Goodreads did not get my hopes up. However, last night I couldn't get to sleep and I wanted a short read to send me off to lullaby-land. I picked up Doll, but on my reading headlamp (yes, you read that correctly...) and settled down.
Oh. My. God.
I know that makes me sound like a tween, but I don't care. I read the entire thing in one go. This book is truly tremendous. I have been sticking up for YA books online ever since M.C. Gurdon posted her scathing review of such titles in the Wall Street Journal (read it here) on June 4th. Since then I've read a whole bunch of books which I've considered valuable texts; I've read books which were beautifully written and which held depth and meaning.
Doll, however, is one of those YA books that needs to be praised as "literature". Singer writes almost hauntingly echoing prose. The book's protagonists, Tilly and Jan (pronounced Yan) are lost and sad souls who both feel abandoned by their mothers for different reasons.
I know what you're thinking. Girl meets boy, boy comforts girl, they seek solace in each other, fall in love, live happily ever after...right? Wrong. This is what I was expecting. This is even what I was hoping for at times! But Tilly is so damaged that she doesn't want solace. Her pain is what she feels connects her to her lost mother. That...and the doll made from scraps of her mother's life. The doll which whispers in her mother's voice...
Jan is an almost diasporic figure. His mother could not look after him in his native Chile so he is adopted by the Sparks family. He feels disconnected from what he calls "[his] English mother" and cannot reconcile his two identities as he feels that he is both Jan Veron, the South American boy, and Jan Sparks, adopted son of his English parents.
The book is only short, at 208 pages, but it is so rich. The writing is amazing and the characters are dysfunctional yet dazzlingly heart-wrenching. M.C. Gurdon would absolutely effing HATE it! Because this text is dark. It's very dark. The subjects of alcoholism, self harm and depression are actually some of the less dismal themes! Even more disturbing is the beautiful was Singer explores the oppositions of truth and lies, life and death, identity and disillusion, grief and healing, madness and sanity, fantasy and reality.
Yup. All those themes which Gurdon said were harmful to younger readers. However, the messages in this book are so wonderfully handled, and the darkness so honestly portrayed and battled with that I can't help but feel that this book is going to end up being taught in schools one day. That's how I felt when I read the book: like I wanted to study it, to dissect it and squeeze every rich drop of meaning from the words. I can't actually gush enough, I don't think! No...I'm not "gushing" over this book, I'm in awe of it.
The only reason I can think for there not being a plethora of glowing, five-star reviews for this text is that people picked it up hoping for something easy and predictable, and instead found themselves with a poignant literary work which demanded more consideration than a glossy happy-ending could provide.
Identity, truth and grief are marvellously considered in this short but achingly bitter-sweet book. This is the best £1 I've spent all year!