‘Eighteen months ago, 17-year-old Rose and 13-year-old Rudder escaped a strict religious sect with their mum. They are still trying to make sense of the world outside – no more rules about clothes and books, films and music, no more technology bans. But also no more friendship with the people they’ve known all their lives, no community and no certainty. It doesn’t help that their mum has to work all hours to pay rent on their cramped, smelly, one-bed flat above a kebab shop in Hackney.
While Rudder gorges on once-taboo Harry Potters and dances to Simon and Garfunkel and show tunes, Rose swaps the ankle skirts and uncut hair of the Woodford Pilgrims for Japanese-cute fairy dress and her new boyfriend, Kye. Kye, who she wants with all her being. But there’s loads of scary stuff about their new life that Rose and Rudder have no idea how to handle – it’s normal for girls to let their boyfriends take naked pictures of them, right?
When Rudder accidentally sets a devastating chain of events into action, Rose must decide whether to sacrifice everything and go back to the life she hates, in order to save the people she loves.’
There are many things about Rose, Interrupted that should be praised, and so many elements of the story that I would love to discuss that I’m going to contain myself to only a few, for fear of this review running rather too long! Needless to say, I enjoyed this novel and more than once have considered its use in the classroom. It’s a story about learning who you are and who you want to be, while different worlds try to pull you in different directions and tell you everything, from what you should wear to how you should behave, and trying to cope with all the different messages people and societies endeavour to have you listen to.
Rose has spent her childhood as part of a religious group who call themselves Pilgrims and seek to separate themselves from the rest of society, to the extent that they don’t send their children to state schools, but take control of their curriculum by educating them within the organisation, and treat women as inferior to the men who control everything. She has experienced the outside world here and there, from briefly attending a normal school and playing with toys that her mother has smuggled in, but she finds the outside world a bigger shock than she realises and spends much of the novel looking for someone or somewhere to provide her with the structure she’s lived with and rules that she’s followed, while acknowledging that the Pilgrim life is not an acceptable one and trying to forge her own identity by choosing what to follow now. It seems that Rose is intent on going against everything the Pilgrims believe in, including acquiring a boyfriend and dressing as wildly differently from them as possible by adopting the fairy kei (the wearing of cute pastels and neons) style, yet she doesn’t entirely know why, beyond rebellion, she is doing these things, leading her to eventually submit to her boyfriend’s determined efforts to photograph her while she’s in a state of undress, for fear of losing him.
Rose is a highly sympathetic character, her loyalties pulled in a lot of different directions, and one of the things I loved most about her was her devotion to her little brother, Rudder. While she often finds his behaviour frustrating (particularly because he wants to go back to the Pilgrims), she spends much of the novel protecting him and trying to do what she believes is best for him. When she makes mistakes, she tries to put them right while still learning how the world around her works, with very little to guide her and suggest what the best course of action will be. She is as lost as he is, if in different worlds, Rose focused on the newness of the world while Rudder seeks refuge in the world of Harry Potter.
One of the things I appreciated most about the novel is how it handles safeguarding and the laws surrounding the sharing of sensitive (inappropriate) material such as that which Rudder receives, in that it isn’t only a matter of legality if the material is shared, but in receiving in and storing it. Rudder shares the material he does because he is desperate for help and needs support, and despite there being obvious sympathy for his unenviable situation, the consequences of his inadvertent actions are not shied away from. It is my hope that young people who read Rose, Interrupted and who may not be fully aware of the specifics of the legal system’s required response to such material will become better informed about it. This said, I’m not sure that the teaching staff’s reaction in attempting to ensure that Rudder has a parent/guardian informed and a safe place to go is carried out in as in-depth and conscientious a manner as it should be, given what they know of his family history, but this is an element that has to fail to a certain degree for the story to work, and so not a comment about the narrative, but what being in the profession had me feeling.
Rose, Interrupted is an excellent read full of sympathetic characters (not always the ones expected) and a story that addresses a wide range of issues sensitively and with elegant writing. You can find it on shelves on July 25th! Thank you to Team BKMRK for the proof copy!