A Strange Kind Of Brave by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

The Blurb On The Back:

What doesn’t kill you makes you … stronger?

Jake McCormack is the villain of Clanfedden.  He’s just killed a boy – deliberately run him over with his truck, in front of everyone.  And he knows he’ll get away with it. 

Luca Spinelli, 14, is the new boy in town.  He’s looking for a fresh start after what happened at his old school.

Allie Redmond has lived in Clanfedden all her life.  Luca’s friendship is the bright spark she needs.

But more than anyone, Allie knows the danger of Jake McCormack.  She needs to warn Luca.  She needs to prevent disaster.  At least, she needs to try …

You can order A Strange Kind Of Brave by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald from Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

When 14-year-old Luca Spinelli arrives in the small town of Clanfedden with his Italian mother, Ariana, he thinks it’ll be the start of a new life that will enable him to put what happened to him in his Dublin school in the past.  Having grown up on his mother’s stories of the wonderful summers she spent in Clanfedden with her best friend, Rachel, he’s expecting an idyllic place with a quaint charm filled with happy and welcoming people.  He’s shocked by what Clanfedden actually is – a run-down hovel populated by brow-beaten people, most of whom are in the debt of the local loan-shark, Jake McCormack. 

McCormack rules Clanfedden with an iron-fist, and he’s none-too-happy that the local council has finally shown some spine by conspiring with the owners of his money-lending store to terminate his lease and sell the freehold to Ariana, who plans to open a restaurant.  He wants to teach Ariana a lesson and drive her from the town.

14-year-old Allie Redmond knows what McCormack is capable of.  She’s lived in Clanfedden all her life and made the mistake of borrowing money from McCormack to help her mother, Rachel, when she got sick.  She and her dad had to deal with his threats after her mother died.  She’s desperate to get Ariana and Luca to understand the danger they’re in but at the same time, she feels a connection with Luca that’s more than the friendship she has with her normal friends, Poppy and Connor and even with the friendly librarian, Veronica Grassbloom, who’s been like a surrogate mother to Allie since her own died.

Then Jake McCormack decides to take matters into his own hands, and neither Luca nor Allie’s lives will ever be the same again …

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s YA thriller is a peculiar, forced affair, more suitable for Tweens than older teens.  I enjoyed the theme of the damage done by loan-sharking and the importance of standing up to bullies, but the twists in this are pretty predictable and I was left wondering why adults were so taken in given some of the absurdities of a big reveal and the McCormack narrated sections are pretty hammy in their villainy.

For me the big problem with the book lies in the sections narrated by Jake McCormack.  Fitzgerald tries so hard to show what a villain he is, that it really doesn’t ring true – especially when the final reveal is made at the end, because I was left wondering how the grown-ups hadn’t worked it out for themselves.  McCormack’s motivation really doesn’t ring true – specifically it isn’t clear what he gets from having the whole town beholden to him so he ultimately boils down to a generic “evil” person who wants power for the sake of it, which I didn’t find particularly interesting.  It also doesn’t quite make sense in the context of the big reveal because there’s a suggestion that he started off wanting something more akin to regard and acceptance so it’s difficult to reconcile where he started with what he’s become.

The Allie and Luca sections are more effective.  In the case of Luca, his bullying storyline is signposted too early but is sensitively depicted and I thought that Fitzgerald does a good job of showing the senselessness of the bullying and how he can’t get why they’re picking on him.  A section showing how his mum tries to support him by buying the right trainers and designer clothes only for the bullies to suddenly depict them as no longer cool rings particularly true.  Less realistic was the conversion of one of the lead bullies, although I did believe in Luca’s reaction to it.

Allie’s description of the rift that opened between her and her dad following her mum’s death was very believable as each tries to deal with their grief in their own way.  I wanted to see more of Allie’s friendship with Veronica to establish the closeness they have (as written, it’s much more tell than show and something that Allie seems to take for granted).  I also wanted a bit more of her friendship with Conor and Poppy because the dynamics don’t quite work as written and she splits from them much too easily with the subsequent rift as they try to warn her away from Luca not ringing true (although it would have done had more been made of the link to the twist).  However a scene where Allie thinks that Luca is dead, despite seeing him in a hospital bed, had me rolling my eyes (and I’m pretty sure the target readership would find that difficult to buy into too) and there are parts where she seems younger and more naive than her age would suggest.

Ultimately, it’s a bit of a strange book and I’ve found it difficult to review.  On the one hand, I liked the focus on the effects of loan sharking and there is a bit of a western feel to McCormack’s power over the town and his shown down with the spirited Ariana.  On the other hand, for a thriller it’s surprisingly short of suspense – in part because of the way Fitzgerald jumps around with the timeline and the effect is further hindered by the alternating narration.  I can’t say that the book really worked for me, but I did keep turning the pages and it wouldn’t stop me from checking out Fitzgerald’s other work. 

A STRANGE KIND OF BRAVE was released in the United Kingdom on 25th July 2019.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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