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Girl in the Window Paperback – 9 Aug 2018
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About the Author
Penny Joelson has loved reading and writing stories since she was a child. She began working with disabled people when she was a teenager, which gave her inspiration for her first novel I Have No Secrets, which was published in 2016 to critical acclaim. Penny runs 'Creative Writing for Children' workshops at City Lit and lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and two children.
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The main character named Kasia was a one I fully understood and her frustration due to her daily life made this book even more readable. The story begins like any other day, as Kasia spends her day looking out of her window but this day is different as Kasia has witnessed a crime and she knows she has seen someone being grabbed from the street but who will believe her or will they see a girl who spends her time on her own day by day and is reporting a crime to the police just for the simple reason she is lonely and wants attention.
But for Kasia, this observation will bring a few main changes to her life in the most unsurprising ways.
Kasia is ill and as a teenager she finds this very frustrating and I loved how the author showed the readers her true frustrations but yet she showed the young adults who this book is written for that this one girl who suffers from M.E. which we all know brings the patient to pure exhaustion beyond a normal exhaustion. But yet the author shows the readers there is more to a person than an illness and you have to see past this which makes this book an extra special read.
I did enjoy reading this book, mainly because of the great writing which was very descriptive throughout and very understanding of an illness which has affected so many lives not only of the sufferer but their family and friends which the author explained fully.
One night, Kasia is closing the curtains when she sees a young woman being dragged into a car near her house. She calls the police but it happened so fast that she couldn’t get the car’s number plate but she saw a young girl in the window of the house opposite hers and tells them that she might be able to give them a better description. The police later tell her, though, that they haven’t had any reports of a young woman being missing and, more mysteriously, when they went to the house opposite hers, they were told that no young girl lives there …
Penny Joelson’s YA contemporary novel incorporates a thriller element with a romance but while it’s strong on setting out what it’s like to live with CFS and I liked Kasia’s Polish heritage, the girl in the window’s storyline is weak (to the point that I felt it did a disservice to the subject matter by relegating it to a sub-plot) and romance cliched so that overall, the novel doesn’t manage to rise above its parts.
The strongest elements of the book relate to Kasia’s CFS, which Joelson sets out in a way that’s easy to understand and sympathise with (unsurprising as she suffers from the condition herself) – especially Kasia’s depression and anxiety and fear that she will never get better. Joelson is also sensitive to the perceptions of the disease by others because it is an ‘invisible’ condition and the symptoms vary, it is open to mockery and disbelief and I thought the scenes where Kasia worries about what other people think was sensitively done. The effect of Kasia’s condition on her parents is well drawn and I thought that Joelson set up an interesting contrast between Kasia’s mum (who has given up work and is trying to give her daughter the support she needs, despite the emotional toll it has on her) and her father’s optimism that his daughter will get better but lack of sensitivity as to the impact on both her and his wife and how he takes out his exasperation about the situation on the absent Marek, who he feels has let the family down by dropping out of university.
However the thriller element is relegated very much to a side plot and, given the nature of the subject matter (trafficking and modern slavery), I thought that it did the subject a disservice and the girl herself is treated almost as an afterthought. It’s further exacerbated by the fact that Kasia initially wonders if something supernatural is going on (a development that I thought was a little silly) and then gets side tracked by a storyline with her elderly neighbour and the introduction of her grandson Nav for a romantic subplot that really didn’t add anything for me (mainly because it’s so cliched and predictable).
Ultimately, I think that this is worth a read because the portrayal of CFS is so strong and it’s a subject that doesn’t ordinarily get covered in YA fiction but I did wish that the thriller element had been up to the seriousness of its subject.
Main protagonist Kasia suffers from ME and she lives much of her life in her bedroom watching the world go by. She witnesses the abduction of a woman in the street and reports it to the police who find no supporting evidence, and no action is taken. Kasia believes she saw a girl like her looking from the window in the house opposite; someone who must also have witnessed the abduction. Author Penny Joelson cleverly uses Kasia to tell the story and she interweaves the main narrative with commentaries from the potential witness.
Characters are well drawn and include Kasia’s parents, a drop-out brother, school teacher and tutor, school friends and neighbours, and all have their strengths and weaknesses to add to the story which moves at a nice pace to give an engaging and entertaining read. In tackling ME ‘Girl in the Window’ deals with a heavyweight subject, yet it is a lightweight book with a largely predictable plot. Hence deduction of a star to 4-star rating.