The Blurb On The Back:
This place is magic … but it’s not the sort of magic that comes from wands and spells …
Safiya and her mum rarely see eye to eye. But when her mum falls ill, something mysterious happens. Saff finds herself transported back in tie to her mum’s childhood home in Kuwait. And it becomes clear that this isn’t just a magical place: it’s a game. As Saff figures out how to play the game, she realises that opening her heart to the past is the key to changing her future …
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
13-year-old Safiya has lived with her dad ever since her parents divorced but she stays with her mum every Saturday night and they hang out and do something together in the afternoon. The problem is that Safiya has never felt that she’s the daughter her mum wants her to be, e.g. she likes video games and is into an on-line game called Fairy Hunters, which she’s really good at, but her mum wants her to do other hobbies like joining a theatre group so that she can go out and meet other people. Their differences mean that they argue a lot and the last fight that they had was so bad that Safiya didn’t bother going to see her mum the next weekend and decided to hang out with her friends in London instead.
But then Safiya’s dad calls her to let her know that her mum’s had a massive stroke and been rushed to hospital. Guilt-ridden, Safiya rushes to the intensive care unit where her mum is hooked up to machines and that’s where something incredible happens: somehow she finds herself transported back to her mum’s childhood home in Kuwait where she watches moments in her mum’s life. The more she hangs out there though, the more she realises that the memories are actually a game and that if she can work out the clues, then maybe she can make things right with her mum and get her to wake up …
Aisha Bushby’s debut fantasy novel for children aged 10+ is a sensitive story about regret, guilt and dealing with a parent who you feel doesn’t understand you that doesn’t patronise readers and doesn’t offer a trite happy ending. I liked the way Bushby brings in the Kuwait setting and the subplot involving Safiya’s deteriorating relationship with her best friend is well drawn such that I’ll definitely read her next book.
I thought Safiya was a completely believable character who really evolves over the pages of the book. Bushby does well at showing the friction between her and her mum in a way that emphasises Safiya’s frustrations and how her mum truly wants to help her daughter but simply can’t understand where she’s coming from. The opening scene where she contrasts the easy relationship that Safiya’s best friend Elle has with Safiya’s mum with the fact that Safiya feels that she has to hide things from her really sets the tone for the rest of the book and is well done. That said, I did want a little more background on Safiya’s mum, e.g. why she wanted to divorce Safiya’s dad (which is never really explained and just seems to be down to her being generally difficult and unhappy) and I could have also done with some foreshadowing of her childhood in Kuwait so that Safiya’s discoveries have some more context.
The fantasy element with Safiya figuring out how to access her mum’s childhood memories is deftly executed and I liked the game-like quality that Bushby gives it as Safiya realises she needs to find specific clues and perform particular tasks. The Kuwaiti location is well done (in fact this is the first book I’ve ever read that has scenes set there) and I enjoyed how Bushby mirrors Safiya’s difficult relationship with her mother with her mother’s difficult relationship with her own mother. A scene where Safiya witnesses a fight between her mum and grandmother and relates it to her own fight with her mum is very moving and Bushby deftly shows how it feeds into Safiya’s own feelings of guilt and regret.
The subplot of Safiya’s deteriorating friendship with Elle who has discovered boys and dating and as a result is becoming a person who Safiya can’t relate to and doesn’t particularly like is one that will resonate the most with the target readership. Although I think the decision to make Elle’s boyfriend an unpleasant piece of work was a little heavy handed, it does serve to emphasise the divide between the girls as they both grow up and I did like how Safiya stands up to those who bully others, which I think is an important message.
Bushby doesn’t go for a trite ending in this book, which I thought was absolutely the right decision but she does resolve it in a way that feels appropriate and satisfying. This is an emotionally mature book in that regard, which I think the target readership will appreciate as it doesn’t patronise them or minimise emotions on a difficult subject. All in all, I thought this was a good read and look forward to reading what Bushby does next.
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.