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Potholes are friends

01 May 2015

Peggy Woodford finds  herself drawn into a  disturbed boy's story


The Boy Who Loved Rain
Gerard Kelly
Lion Fiction £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20

A NOVEL telling the story of a severely disturbed teenager who starves and cuts himself and spends time on suicide websites doesn't promise to be a satisfying and compelling read, but, though Gerard Kelly's novel starts slowly, once the main characters, 16-year-old Colom and his adoptive mother, Fiona, reach the home of Miriam, an English therapist resident in Brittany, it's hard to put the book down.

Colom was illegitimate and seriously abused in childhood before being adopted, aged two, by Fiona and David, and had a happy life with his foster parents until his mid-teens. Then he starts to dream of a sister: My sister is drowning. I have no sister. My sister is drowning and I cannot reach her. With the onset of these appalling nightmares, Colom's violent behaviour and self-cutting begin, and he has to be removed from school.

Once he's settled down in Brittany, Miriam starts her redemptive work. She goes slowly, not minding his refusals, his silences. She doesn't fill them "with questions to move things along, like a road mender filling potholes to ease the flow of traffic. She had learned that potholes were her friends - it was the road that was the problem, burying everything under its dark load of asphalt."

Buried in Colom's mind is the ghost of a sister; slowly and with difficulty her real existence is discovered. Her name is no longer Rain, she lives in Denmark, and she's anorexic and as disturbed as her foster brother. A meeting takes place full of uneasiness and false starts, but the author is skilful in implying that there is genuine hope for the two teenagers.

Overshadowing it all is the imponderable effect of the open internet on young minds - its "social" websites, its permanent interconnectivity, its invitation to release vicious (and later regretted) comments best shared or fought over face to face and, it is to be hoped, forgiven, and forgotten rather than offered for all to tear apart online. There is little chance of redemption via the world wide web.

Peggy Woodford is a novelist.

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