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Posts Tagged ‘Contemporary British YA Literature’

After reading Tabitha Suzuma’s ‘Forbidden’, and then her ‘A Note of Madness’ and A Voice in the Distance’, I have been waiting for her next book ‘Hurt’ to be released. I was very excited when it was released a couple of weeks back. I got it last week and finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.

Hurt By Tabitha Suzuma

‘Hurt’ starts with a very bleak scene. Mathéo gets up one day morning and realizes that he is still fully dressed. He also realizes that he has got cuts and bruises all over his body and something has happened in his room – it is totally trashed and everything there is broken and smashed. He can’t remember what happened the previous night. Or something in his mind suppresses that memory. He knows one thing though. Whatever happened the previous night has changed his life irrevocably and he will never been able to go back to his earlier carefree, happy life.

 

The story then goes back and tells us more about Mathéo. Mathéo is the British and European diving champion. He is expected to win a medal – hopefully the gold – at the next Olympics. He is young though and is still at school. He loves his girlfriend, the charming, beautiful Lola, deeply. Hugo and Isabel are Mathéo’s friends, with whom he hangs out at lunch time and whenever he has free time. Mathéo’s parents are busy professionals and don’t have time for their children from a day-to-day perspective, though they spend time with them whenever it is required. Mathéo has a brother Loïc, who is very young, very shy and who loves Mathéo very much. Lola’s father Jerry is a wonderful dad who has brought up Lola since she was a baby, after her mother passed away. Jerry has been both a father and a mother to Lola and he is also her best friend. This is the background to the events of the story. The final exams at school get over and the friends part for a few days. Mathéo goes to participate in the National Diving Championships at Brighton. And something happens there, which he can’t remember and which we don’t know about, which affects his life irrevocably. When he comes back he is a changed man and he finds it difficult to even talk to his friends and loved ones.

 

What happens to Mathéo? Does he remember what happened that night? Why does his mind suppress that memory – was what happened so shocking and terrible? How does he cope with his life in the aftermath? And what happens to his relationships with Lola, Hugo and Isabel? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

 

‘Hurt’ is sunny and delightful, and also dark and bleak in equal measure. (What is a Suzuma book without a little bit (or lots) of dark and bleak?) The happy scenes where Mathéo and Lola spend time together sometimes with each other, sometimes with their friends Hugo and Isabel and sometimes with Jerry, Lola’s dad, are some of the happy scenes in the book. One of the sunny scenes was where the ‘Horse and Hound’ magazine is mentioned – the magazine which was made famous by Hugh Grant’s character in ‘Notting Hill’. At other times Suzuma takes us into the mind of someone who has been through a traumatic experience and keeps us there and we alongwith Mathéo plumb the depths of despair. The bleak parts of the book are gripping as we struggle to understand what Mathéo is going through. When what happened on that fateful night is revealed, halfway through the book, it is shocking.  When the secret is revealed, towards the end, it is devastating. When we are reeling with the shock of the revelations and, like the characters in the book, are trying to pick the pieces, Tabitha Suzuma delivers the sucker punch. After having read ‘Forbidden’, one expects no less from Suzuma. But it hurts all the same, the ending breaks (‘shatters’ would be the better word here) one’s heart (Suzuma describes it in the book herself – “He…feels the acute pain of something breaking inside him – something permanent, something he knows will never, ever mend.”  That feels like an iceberg cracking, doesn’t it? That is exactly what happens to the reader.)

 

I don’t know any YA author like Suzuma, anyone who writes like this. Most YA books, even if they are on difficult topics – death, cancer, rape – mostly end with a ray of hope. But Suzuma is different. After reading a few books by her, one more or less expects a devastating ending and braces oneself, but it still doesn’t help. I think we can call her the Thomas Hardy of YA literature. I am not complaining though. I am a sucker for tragedies. My favourite Shakespeare play is ‘Hamlet’. I love the sunny comic ones like ‘The Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘Twelfth Night’, but nothing can beat ‘Hamlet’ in my book. When I read the last lines today, even if it is for the umpteenth time – “Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” – it still makes me cry. Reading the last pages of ‘Hurt’ made me feel like that.

 

If you liked Suzuma’s ‘Forbidden’ you will love ‘Hurt’. I am surprised that she hasn’t won the Carnegie Medal yet. It is long overdue.

 

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

 

Dusk is taking its time to fall, stretching out each remaining minute for as long as possible, in no hurry for the day to end. And Mathéo finds himself wishing it never had to, wishing this walk could last for ever.

 

Everything looks so normal, Mathéo thinks, and yet everything seems somehow alien too. It is almost as if he is witnessing this kind of scene for the very first time. He feels as if he is on the other side of something all those other people cannot understand. As if he is the only one who is aware of the folly of humankind : forced enthusiasm, people rushing this way and that, trying to edge ahead of each other in their urgent need to get someplace – the where hardly seems to matter. What is imperative is the need to keep going, to keep moving, to keep constantly busy – all a desperate attempt to kid themselves that they are a part of this world, that they are somehow important, that the choices they make and the actions they take and the places they go actually mean something.

 

There is no chronology inside his head. Instead, it is composed of myriad images which spin and mix and part like sparks of sunlight on water, then vanish entirely, no more substantial than a dream.

 

Have you read ‘Hurt’ or other books by Tabitha Suzuma? What do you think about them?

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