(Macmillan Children’s Books)
Mira Levenson has just turned twelve and feels like her life has been tipped upside down. It already felt quite chaotic, with her lively, loud and nosy family and her outspoken larger-than-life grandmother. Sometimes Mira just feels that she could do with a little more privacy of thoughts and actions. But Nana Josie is in the last phase of terminal cancer and Mira is left to struggle with her sadness as well as her imminent dip into teenage hood. When best friend Millie brings her along to a creative writing class led by wacky and mysterious Pat Print, Mira is not sure what she will be writing about or if there is any point. She is so used to be the quiet one, the one who cannot find her voice when in public. But she soon finds herself finding new strength and a new voice there, especially with the help of bad-boy Jidé Jackson, who turns out to be not so bad, and to have a few secrets of his own. When your heart is slowly shattering, can someone come along and help at least put a few bits back together? At a time when Mira is supposed to be so sad, can she also allow herself a little bit of happiness?
What a rollercoaster of emotions this little beauty of a novel will take you through, and what a striking début from newcomer Sita Brahmachari. Artichoke Hearts is a finely crafted and wonderfully poignant coming-of-age story. Mira is a lovable heroine who carries a lot on her frail shoulders. The story revolves around her, and the book being written in the form of her diary helps to keep her at the centre of the story, but others, such as Jidé, Nana Josie and Pat Print are pivotal in defining who Mira is and in helping to develop who she becomes by the end of the story.
Artichoke Hearts touches on so many, often highly emotively-charged, subjects: friendship, bereavement, growing up, acceptance of oneself and of one’s demise, bullying, family, love, guilt … and yet, amazingly, this book manages to incorporate these issues and still retain a sense of lightness, and of hope.
Artichoke Hearts is one of these novels where you are sitting amidst the action; it draws you in and grabs you. This is greatly helped by the fine quality of the writing (particularly effective at giving a sense of place: the seaside cottage and the hospice especially), and brilliant characterisation. Now, I have to admit I felt little endearment at first for Nana Josie; I found her a little too overbearing, verging on the rude, and although she had obviously had a fabulous life, you could see she had been plenty fiery in her younger years too! But the author crafted the story in such a way that you can literally feel her becoming more and more vulnerable, and see the real person behind the big personality. We follow Mira in this journey, as she too realises she knows little of her grandmother, other than what her grandmother has “allowed” her to see.
Jidé was the real star of this book for me. The way his story is unveiled is done to great effect. I doubt any reader could guess what his secret is and this makes his bad-boy attitude all the more touching. But Mira is also a great character, a young girl on the verge of life-changing experiences; the Mira at the end of the book is not the Mira we met at the beginning. I felt so sad for her not wanting to share things with her parents for fear of them being too interested or making a fuss. I guess we expect that children will be scared of repercussions, not praise or over-involvement. I felt it made her as vulnerable as Jidé in many ways. Both are strong characters however, and don’t wallow in their sorrow. Despite the sad ending, there is an awful lot of hope at the end of this book.
Artichoke Hearts is one of those rare, powerful novels which will stay with you long after you have finished it. It is enchanting, funny, sad, surprising, heartening and heart-rending all at the same time, which is why I have found so hard to capture its essence and review it.
So if you take anything from this review, let it be this: read Artichoke Hearts and let yourself be taken in its beautiful emotional journey.
Sent for review by publisher.