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Wild Awake
Hilary T. Smith
Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera
Bryan Peterson
Solace of the Road - Siobhan Dowd 4.5 stars“I was in the middle of a field in Wales with a storm growling in the sky and the cops after me. And all I had to help was a thieving glamour girl who only existed inside my own cracked head.” Having seen many fall into clichéd or melodramatic territory, I tend to be wary of books with plotlines that centre around a character taking a (literal) journey of self-discovery. The usual formula (teen has issues, teen hits road, teen has quirky interludes, teen has epiphany – all set to a very hip soundtrack, of course) is honestly feeling a little tired, to me. But Solace of the Road is nothing like that. This is a story about Holly Hogan, a fifteen year old “care-babe” with a damaged past and a future that looks bleak. With nothing to hold onto but fleeting memories of her Mam singing the Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams, and a blonde wig, Holly decides to ditch her foster placement and hit the road to Ireland. Holly adopts the persona of Solace: a brave, blonde glamour girl, pink lipstick on and fag in hand. Solace is Unstoppable. Solace is brave. Solace is going to find her way home. This is the first time I’ve read a book written by Dowd (though A Monster Calls was written based on her ideas, after her death), and I have no doubt in my mind that she was an exceptional writer. It is evident from the depth of this bittersweet and moving story that Dowd must have had great empathy, insight and interest in young people like Holly. She writes honestly, yet respectfully, about the realities of Holly and her friends’ lives in and out of care, her emotional and mental issues, her fractured past. In some respects, Holly/Solace is not a “likeable” character. Although well before the end I just wanted to wrap her up in an enormous hug.. But I realised while reading Solace of the Road that I don’t actually require characters to be likeable. I require them to be compelling. And Holly/Solace is. She’s a captivating, full-force personality, and her literal and emotional journey had me tied to the pages. Initially bristling with attitude and barely suppressed anger, Holly/Solace gradually must open the drawers she keeps locked up in her mind, and decide who she really is. Dowd excels in capturing Holly/Solace’s voice/s. The book reads just as it would pour from her mind, unfiltered, raw, brash, a blend of child-like and street-wise. It’s occasionally difficult to read her story, particularly when we’re given glimpses of Holly/Solace’s suppressed past, or to see her vulnerable and alone. That said, I appreciate the balance that Dowd used in writing Holly/Solace’s roadtrip encounters. Some are stomach-twisting, some are sad, but some are also touching and funny. Dare I say it (and I usually have to clamp down on my gag-reflex when I come across this word, so I don’t use it lightly), it’s life-affirming. Yet Dowd isn’t ramming a message in her readers’ face. She’s simply telling a story about a hurt, tough girl, and what that girl goes through in her search for home. There are no easy answers or simple solutions, but at the heart of it, this is a realistically hopeful story. After all, like the Eurythmics say, “everybody’s looking for something.”~Thanks to the lovely Jo for reading Solace of the Road along with me. She's a "slim-slam" lady :)