Title: Leopold Blue
Author: Rosie Rowell
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication Date: January 2nd 2014
Book: For Review*
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Friendships, Coming-of-Age
Summary: Meg Bergman is fifteen and fed up. She lives in a tiny town in rural 1990s South Africa - a hot-bed of traditionalism, racial tension and (in Meg's eyes) ordinariness. Meg has no friends either, due largely to what the community sees as her mother's interfering attempts to educate farm workers about AIDS. But one day Xanthe arrives - cool, urban, feisty Xanthe, who for some unknown reason seems to want to hang out with Meg. Xanthe arrives into Meg's life like a hurricane, offering her a look at a teenage life she never knew existed. But cracks quickly begin to show in their friendship when Meg's childhood friend Simon returns from his gap year travels. LEOPOLD BLUE is an emotionally taut and beautifully-written story from a debut author with a mesmerizing voice. -goodreads
Having read hardly any novels set in South Africa in the 1990s, especially not told through the eyes of a non-black protagonist, I jumped at the chance to review this book – and while not an absolute favourite of mine, I did enjoy aspects of it. There were footnotes at the end of nearly each page describing some of the terms used which I found extremely useful, and, it was interesting to learn a few new words as well. (Who says you don’t learn anything if you read fiction!)
“Despair hovered in the doorways and oozed down telephone receivers. It formed a film over the eyes of those who had lived here forever, who would and could never leave. It was contagious.”
Meg was a complicated character for me, in terms of; I couldn’t really work her out. On the surface she was just a bored teen in a ‘dead’ village with nothing to do, shunned by most of the residents because of what her Mum did, and with no friends. But if you peeled back a few layers from her outer exterior, she was hurt, and depressed, and felt like nobody cared about her - which is why she jumped at the chance to befriend Xanthe.
Rebellious, ‘cool’, someone who didn’t care what she did and whether it was right or wrong, Xanthe set my teeth on edge and annoyed me within the first couple of encounters. Which I believe was the point, she was meant to be the girl that readers saw through her transparent words and lies, but who Meg viewed through rose tinted glasses (I hope that was the point anyway!). However, because Xanthe infuriated me so much with her thoughtless actions, and because Meg blindly followed her and did whatever she was told, Meg started to annoy me too.
“Without some miraculous intervention, I was in danger of getting stuck here being me for the rest of my life.”
The depiction of the world Meg lived in was described perfectly, and I felt like I lived there too – ducking my head every class to escape the teacher’s glares, lying on the dusty road trying to conjure up something to do amidst the lifeless area. The descriptions were spot-on, and fitted the tone of the book perfectly. However, again, the language tipped the scales slightly for me, every time I saw I swear word I would let out a small sigh. Why? I know I’m probably at the top of the list of pernickety readers who dislike swearing so don’t take this point too much to heart as I’m just an extreme (!!) but gah, why? What does swearing bring to a story? How does it benefit it? *shakes head and slaps hand over mouth to stop rant*. One other little thing bugged me, and that was the punctuation errors, although I have an ARC so hopefully they will get fixed in the finished edition.
Leopold Blue was a book that created mixed-emotions for me. On the one hand, I enjoyed reading about the different attitudes to certain people and actions at that time, in that country, and I thought the characters of Meg and Xanthe were well developed. However, the unnecessary bad language, and the fact that after a while, the main characters started getting on my nerves made me slightly disappointed in the book - although I think the overall reason why I didn’t enjoy this book as I thought I would is because I’m not a fan of reading about the topics this book talked about. I still think I would pick up the author’s new book if she wrote another one, just to see if my feelings would favour towards it more than it did to her first, but I definitely don’t think I would re-read this one; although I know a lot of people who I think would really enjoy this. My rating: ★★★★
*this book was received free of charge by Hot Key Books in exchange for an honest review.