My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A Brighter Fear by Kerry Drewery is, I think, the first piece of British children’s literature to directly address the war in Iraq. (Please do correct me if I’m wrong!). A while back on my blog I wrote about the necessity of children’s literature addressing war here and would particularly reccommend Lydia Kokkola’s Representing the Holocaust in Children’s Literature to those who wish to learn more.
A Brighter Fear is a groundbreaking book in many ways and one that’s also very very curious. It’s the story of Lina; teenager, Christian, female – and Iraqi. She’s growing up in the most difficult circumstances possible and it’s not easy. Growing up never is.
Drewery creates a convincing and believable character in Lina. She’s palpably sad, and tense, and fragile. Every word she says has the sensation of being very deliberately chosen for this point in time. Here, though, is where the book gets quite curiously intriguing. It’s told in first person past tense style: I said, I believed, I watched etc. The other key signifier of Drewery’s writing here is a preponderance for sentences that begin with “And” or “But”. There’s a lot of them here.
Now usually I’d be picking up on these stylistic tendencies because reading a lot of sentences that look the same is a tiring experience. You become used to the shape of the word, of the paragraph, and as such start to slowly disengage from the text. A Brighter Fear manages to become a book that doesn’t really lend itself to be read – it’s one that you engage with. Time and time again I found myself reading sections out loud, feeling the words on my tongue and picking up on the inherent rhythms of the text. It combines to produce quite a spooky, unnerving affect and being all in past tense gives it a very definitive feel of uncertainty. It seems to say this is Lina’s moment, this is where it all changed, and the Lina that’s telling you this might not be the same one who’s in the story.
This is a book that’s very near to the bone in many places. There’s a subplot with Lina’s mother which is incredibly painful to read. It needs to be read with an awareness of the recent nature of these events for if A Brighter Fear is something, it is very quietly provocative and disturbing.
The more I read A Brighter Fear, the more I felt uncomfortable and the more I became wrapped up in what happens to Lina. It’s a big, brave story to try and tell and I sort of think that Drewery does succeed in the whole. She presents a novel full of pain, and beauty, and tear-filled moments and when she writes her big moments, she writes them very beautifully.
But I think where A Brighter Fear perhaps succeeds more is when it forgets the bombs, the terror, and the sad sad resignation of the populace. It is in the quieter moments; the moments where people just talk or think or love. After all, it’s people who make conflict – and it’s people who will solve it.