Review of We Come Apart

We Come Apart
by Brian Conaghan and Sarah Crossan
High School    Bloomsbury    312 pp.    g
6/17    978-1-68119-275-8    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-68119-276-5    $12.99

Two troubled UK teens forge an unlikely romance in this novel in verse. Jess, a jaded tough girl, nicked some cosmetics with friends who let her take the fall. Nicu, an earnest Romanian boy, impulsively stole a candy bar to satisfy his hunger. They tell their stories in alternating free-verse poems distinguished primarily by voice — most noticeably by English-language-learner Nicu’s ungrammatical but enthusiastic (and occasionally contrived-sounding) use of English. Their crimes lead to community service detail, where Nicu is drawn to Jess: “She seem lonely. / She seem lost. / She seem total tragic sad. / And I want to rush to her feelings.” Jess is at first dismissive of the “immigrant gypsy boy,” but eventually she softens to his good-natured company. Their connection deepens slowly and quietly, becoming a sweet and uncomplicated bond that offers relief from their painful private lives: Jess is a victim of her stepfather’s sadistic whims, and Nicu’s domineering parents are pushing him into an arranged marriage. While Jess finally stands up for Nicu in the face of her bigoted friends, her transformation seems minor compared to the abrupt and tender sacrifice Nicu makes for her at the end of their brief time together. This contemporary star-crossed love affair is convincing and moving — and also a heartbreakingly timely portrayal of discrimination and bullying in Brexit-era London.

From the May/June 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jessica Tackett MacDonald

Jessica Tackett MacDonald is a collection development librarian at the Boston Public Library, specializing in youth and teen collections. She holds masters degrees in library science and children’s literature from Simmons University.

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