Dowd’s final novel (the author died of cancer in 2007) is a compelling psychological portrait of a girl’s journey from denial to facing the facts that will let her move beyond her troubled past. Holly Hogan, 14, has been a ward of the state for most of her life. She is finally placed with foster parents Fiona and Ray, but is suspicious, unable to believe anyone would be interested in a “delinquent care-babe with a cracked up past.” Then she finds a blonde wig Fiona wore while recovering from chemotherapy, which transforms Holly’s looks—and confidence. At first opportunity, she dons the wig, renames herself “Solace” and hits the road, intent on reaching Ireland, where she thinks her mother fled nine years earlier. Considerable tension is derived from the precarious situations Holly puts herself in—hitching rides, leaving a nightclub with a stranger, hiding in the back of a wagon on a ferry—but the real tightrope she’s walking is along the slippery thread of memory. Readers will root for her to find her balance and arrive safely at the right destination. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)
Gr 8–11—Holly Hogan is about to turn 15 and has been given a chance to leave her group home behind. She's being offered a foster placement, but the prospect engenders feelings and issues she hadn't expected. It means leaving Miko, her key worker (live-in case worker) and her only friends. They may be dysfunctional, but they're a part of her. She knows that things would be better in Ireland, the land of her birth. Her mam's there and it's where she needs to go. She puts on a blonde wig that her foster mother wore during cancer treatments, and she feels transformed. She can escape her circumstances by donning the wig and becoming Solace of the Road. Her journey from London to Ireland is a mix of adventure, discovery, and introspection. Gritty, touching, and real, the teen's journey takes listeners along for the ride. Siobhan Dowd's novel (David Fickling Bks., 2009) is narrated by Sile Bermingham who conveys the subtlety of British regional accents to listeners. She also brings an honesty to the voice of a girl on the edge of womanhood and self-discovery. Sometimes she is a sophisticated teen with "slim-slam hips," and at other times she is a scared and lonely little girl who has manipulated her painful memories as a way of coping with her past. The audio format makes this story even more compelling.—Genevieve Gallagher, Charlottesville High School, VA
Holly, a 15-year-old ward of the state, is placed with foster parents who, though they try very hard, can't break through the barrier she has constructed around herself, mostly to forget her early life with her uninterested mother. After she discovers a blond wig that seems to add years to her age, Holly hits the road, bravely reinventing herself as Solace, a young woman with an attitude. Her destination, across England and Wales, is Ireland, where her mother must surely be. Experiences along the way-a few drinks in a club, a brush with a sexually aggressive young man, a long ride with a vegan truck driver and getting locked in a van on a ferry-help her rediscover lost memories. Holly's character is fully developed and bright with a quirky humor, and even secondary characters with lightly sketched parts fly off the pages in three dimensions. Holly's insights and observations are completely plausible, as is her voyage of discovery, described in lovely, pitch-perfect language. A last gift from Dowd. (Fiction. 12 & up)
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2009:
"A last gift from Dowd."
Starred Review, Booklist, October 1, 2009:
"With rare, raw honesty, Dowd writes about the legacy of abandonment, memory's comforting tricks, and the painful, believable ways that love heals."