Afraid – Mandasue Heller


Published by Hodder & Stoughton

Source: Bookbridgr

Mandasue Heller’s thrilling novel is set on the gritty streets of Manchester.
When fifteen-year-old Skye’s mother finally does something so shocking that it can’t be hushed up, the police turn her over to the social workers – and that’s when the nightmare begins.
She doesn’t know if her father is alive or dead; the woman who is supposed to be helping her dumps her in a terrifying ‘home’ that’s more like a jail. But she still has one friend to turn to: the sympathetic girl she’s met in an internet chat room, the one who seems to have a home life as unhappy as Skye’s. And Jade offers her a safe place to stay . . .
Alone in Manchester, nearly penniless, Skye is willing to trust Jade. Even when it isn’t Jade who turns up at the rendezvous, but a grown-up man who says he’s Jade’s brother . . .

This one was certainly an uncomfortable read – in the sense that it deals with a harrowing subject that one wishes wasn’t a subject at all.

From the synopsis, it is pretty obvious what we are going to be dealing with here. The poor, downtrodden 15-year-old Skye is living a nightmare. Her mother is mentally unstable and finally flips during yet another argument with Skye’s father and stabs him. Owing to this, and the fact that she has been on Social services’ radar for some time anyway, Skye is taken into ‘care’ – care being a loosely used term… and yet her real troubles have far from begun.

Having run from her hellish care home – and with no idea where her mum has been taken or how to get in touch with her recovering father – Skye has nowhere else to turn other than to QTPye, her online friend who understands exactly what Skye is going through.

Cue QTPye, aka Jade’s, brother Tom, who turns up to save Skye from her nightmare in place of Jade who ‘got held up’. Tom takes Skye to his run down and secluded house where she will be safe from the authorities who are trying to ruin her life. It is at this point that an already hopeless and tragic story really becomes extremely harrowing…

Heller deals with the disturbing subject of online grooming and paedophilia very aptly. Without being too graphic during some of the more disturbing moments in the story, she is able to address the frightening reality of how easy it is for vulnerable children to be manipulated into the most harmful situations. The subject of grooming is not just here for its own sake either. Of course it is what the story is essentially about, but it is woven into a very well written plot. And all main characters are well developed, with impressive internal dialogue and authentic discourse.

Skye’s ordeal is mercifully interspersed with a look at how her father is coping with things his end – finding himself homeless, jobless, and vilified by the community following false accusations of violence towards his wife and sexually abusing his daughter, he is then imprisoned for allegedly murdering Skye. Ok so I said mercifully, he does have a very tough time of it himself, but it’s still nothing compared to what his daughter is going through whilst everyone else believes she is dead.

I wouldn’t advise reading this one if you’re into ‘happily-ever-afters’, whether you think things end well or not in this story is all relative. You might come away feeling thankful that everything turned out ok, but actually it didn’t, not really.

Overall, a stark yet sensitive take on a very dark and gritty subject. As difficult to put down as it was to read!

My thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review

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