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on 5 September 2009
Tell friends and family you have gone away, take the phone off the hook and be prepared to be completely immersed in the lives of Jake and Mary. I've just lost the last two days to this wonderful novel and I've loved every second of it.
Growing up on the south coast in the 1980s myself, this is one of the few books I've read that really captures the little details that make the area and the era so magical. This novel creates a real sense of place and time with settings almost as characterful as the two narrators themselves.
Writing with two voices is difficult to pull off, but the two lives are beautifully balanced. Mary, a life detached through alcohol, and her son Jake, struggling with the preoccupations of adolescence and a family that is frayed around the edges. Jake, in particular, really hit the spot with me, from his love of cold November days and Greek mythology, his thoughts on Joey Deacon and Thundercats, through to some moments of real heartbreak. All of this is beautifully conveyed by the author.
As you can probably tell, I adored this first novel and wait with eager anticipation for Ashdown's next.
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on 17 September 2009
I heard the author of this book on our BBC radio station being interviewed on a show on which they were reviewing her book. It received their highest recommendation - higher than any other book on their show, so I recommended it for our book club as we're always looking for inspiration! Well what can I say that hasn't already been said. This is truely a stunning book. I read it in just three days. The story is so tragically normal it sometimes hurts to read it. The tiny details, metaphors and descriptions created an incredibly vivid picture of the characters and their entrapment in what many of us would consider a relatively normal life. I can't wait to talk to about it at our next book club meeting! More please!!
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on 15 September 2009
This book is ALIVE. I read it in two days. When I finished Glasshopper, I wanted to climb into Jake's world, put an arm around his shoulders and make sure he was going to be alright. Jake is such an endearing character. His mother, Mary, is an alcoholic, and it would be easy to hate her for the way she neglects Jake and his brothers. But the sections written from Mary's point of view give an insight into her mood swings and her descent into alcoholism. Really, this book has everything: teenage angst, sex, sibling rivalry, the intricacies of the English class system. And humour, too. I would definitely recommend...
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VINE VOICEon 24 September 2012
This was an excellent read, not least because I could relate to the time and place. I was born at around the same time as Mary and went to school in Portsmouth. I remember the street parties celebrating the Queen's Jubilee in 1977 and they are still a strong memory of my university days.

Jake's story is narrated, along with his mother, Mary, on two time frames, both in first person. As we become familiar with Jake's family life, we see, not only the effects of his mother's alcoholism on the family dynamic, but also, how she came to be that way. Jake's older brother has already moved out and is now just a lingering presence. His Dad has also admitted defeat and lives apart, although he loves his family and does his best to remain a part of it. Jake's younger brother, Andy, winds Jake up and plays the part of annoying little brother, although the bond between them is tangible.

Then, during one of her more lucid periods, Mary gets back in touch with her estranged older sisiter, Rachel. Suddenly, Jake and Andy discover that they have cousins, an instant extended family, living on the Isle of Wight. They travel to meet them and love the bustle of the big house full of activity.
Other characters form a vital part of the whole; Mr Horrocks, who owns the local shop, gives Jake a job as a paper boy and offers support when times are tough. Malcom, the son of Jake's Dad's drinking partner, Stu, also finds himself outside the local pub on regular occasions and the two boys become friends. And Sandy, who is a family friend and looks out for the boys when things get really bad.
I felt for Jake when his mother forgot to go to parents' meetings at school, and when he covered up for her. He's a great character, with his quirky love of Greek mythology.

The prologue gave a hint of future events, but I had forgotten about it until the end (one of the disadvantages of reading on a Kindle). Things come to a head when Jake's family goes on holiday to France with Rachel's family and long buried secrets start to cause rifts.

A beautifully written novel that I may, at some stage, read again. Meanwhile there are 2 other books by the author for me to look forward to.
Highly recommended.
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on 2 May 2012
Capturing a 13 year old on paper is a lot harder than it sounds - I would image.
We are immediately immersed in 13 year old Jake's 1980's world, and that of his mother Mary from 1950 to 1980's.

At times you want to shake Mary and hug Jake and at times the other way round. They are both well observed engaging characters, with hardships and fragility. The father is a warm kind man who has his sons and their mother's best interest at heart . . . but should he do more?

Jake's attempts to cope with adults problems with a 13 year old's brain are engaging and heart breaking. But there is also humour and lighter moments.

This is book you will read on the bus, under your desk at work, in the loo and instead of watching your favorite TV programme. Be prepared for it to take over your life for a day or two.

If I had any criticism it would be some events in the final chapters seems to be a bit surreal.
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on 18 March 2011
"Glasshopper" is a book you won't be able to put down easily once you have started it. The engrossing story of teenager Jake, who aside from the usual struggles of growing up, also has to cope with an alcoholic mother and a broken home. Via a separate timeline, we follow the mother's descent into drinking. Beautifully observed and written, and left me with a few unresolved questions in the end. I will be eager to read more from Isabel Ashdown.
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on 22 December 2012
I was immediately engaged by Isabel Ashdown's Glasshopper. The narrative alternates between thirteen-year-old Jake and his alcoholic mother, Mary. When we first meet Mary, she's recently separated from Jake's father and she's in a bad way. In the absence of a competent parent (Mary spends much of her time in bed, drunk) Jake does his best to hold things together, clearing up his mum's sick, doing the household chores and looking after his younger brother, Andy. Jake is a thoroughly likeable character but he's not whiter-than-white, so he's convincing. True, he steals from the kindly newsagent a couple of times , and sometimes he thumps his brother unnecessarily. But we forgive him, because he's hard-working and intelligent and kind and vulnerable.

The book opens in 1985 and goes back in time to Mary's childhood. As we follow her life through her teens, twenties and thirties, we see the choices she's made and the consequences of those choices, and we begin to understand what has led her to the depths she's reached when we first meet her. Both Jake's and Mary's voices are strong and convincing, and as the family's history unfolds and the narratives move closer together, there are moments of both joy and heartbreak as a number of secrets are revealed. I enjoyed the period detail, and I loved the minor characters. I felt Jake's voice was slightly stronger than Mary's, but maybe that actually emphasises the fact that Mary is in some ways a slightly diminished character. I found her story convincing and tragic, and I felt hugely sympathetic to her; if anything, I wanted more of Mary. I found this an immensely engaging and satisfying read.
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on 9 June 2014
I was left feeling very disappointed by this book (so much so that I have felt prompted to write this review. My first ever review). I found that it 'plodded along' quite nicely but that I was waiting for something (even mildly) exciting to happen. When it finally did, I found the aftermath very strange and unbelievable. Having read this on a kindle, I was very surprised that I had come to the end. I felt that the story had bit more to give and that I had questions that were not answered. I actually put my kindle down and announced 'is that it?!' I'm very surprised by the high ratings this book has received and I would not recommend it to anyone unfortunately.
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on 11 November 2013
Glasshopper is Isabel Ashdown's very first novel and I thouroughly enjoyed every page. Glasshopper won the Observer Best Debut Novels of the Year. Isabel Ashdown lives in West Sussex with her husband who is an carpenter.
The story starts of with young school boy Jake in November 1984. On a Saturday after noon Jake's dad takes Jake to their local pub the Royal Oak. Jake's dad tells the landlord Eric that Jake is fourteen so he can come in the pub with dad. Stu who is Jake's dad's mate brings his son Malcolm in the pub with him as Jake and Malcolm are the same age.
Jake and Malcolm adventure out of the pub to buy some sweets and on thier return they see an woman in a summer dress and slippers swaying in the freezing cold shouting at the landlord outside the pub. Malcolm begins to laugh out loud, but poor young Jake can see that woman swaying is his mum but Malcolm dosen't know that and Jake dosen't want Malcolm to find out that this is his mum swaying shouting at the landlord so Jake finds a way to get his mother home without Malcolm knowing anything. Review by
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on 12 September 2012
Nice easy read with a shocker that i really didnt see coming. Relaxing- not a gripping storyline but a believable one. I dont generally like stories that switch from one persons point of view to another but this story tells both sides of mother and son and it was'nt confusing, it flowed nicely so not too much concentration needed! Not something i would read again or tell my friends to rush out and buy but it is still worth a read.
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