- Girl Detached by Manuela Salvi (Translated from Italian by Denise Muir)
Rating: * * * * *
Publisher: Barrington Stoke (Bucket List Books)
Publication Date: September 2016
Format: Proof copy
Age group: Although this is targeted at YA, I would say that the content means that it is one for an older YA audience and I’d personally recommend it to those 16+. I would also forewarn about triggers for sexual abuse and grooming.
Goodreads Synopsis: Aleksandra has issues with her voice. Stress makes her stutter, and her life is one of stress. She can only speak clearly on stage, freed by the words of the character she plays. Then, when Aleksandra befriends her new neighbour Megan, and through her meets charming, handsome Ruben, it seems she has discovered a doorway into a different world, and a different Alek. But Ruben wants Aleksandra to play a particular role for him, and it is one that will come close to destroying her.
I first heard about ‘Girl Detached’ at this year’s YALC (the Young Adult Literature Convention) and I received a proof copy of the book there. ‘Girl Detached’ was censored and banned from sale in Italy, but has been translated into English by Denise Muir (and I must say her translation is brilliant – it flows very well) and it is being published in the UK this year. The UK publishers believe that this is a story the world needs to hear and I completely agree with them. In three words, ‘Girl Detached’ is honest, powerful and heartbreaking.
‘Girl Detached’ tells the story of Aleksandra, a keen amateur actress who has lived with her gran for her whole life. After her gran’s death, she has to move back in with the mother who abandoned her and her new family, which includes a younger brother. Moving back into this house introduces Aleksandra to Megan, the pretty girl who lives next door and is always sneaking out of her window. Through Megan, Aleksandra is introduced to the charming, good-looking and influential Ruben, and her life begins to spiral out of control.
One of the things that really struck me about ‘Girl Detached’ was the skill of the character portrayals. Each character is very vivid and distinctive, from Megan, so eager to take Alek under her wing and to transform her and who seems outwardly very confident but can be bitter and lacks self-belief underneath, and her friends, who act hostile and competitively towards Alek, to Jonah, a fellow member of Alek’s theatre company who can be snide and irritating, and all the other members of the ‘Ship of Fools’ company. The scenes in the theatre company were probably my favourite – I loved it when Alek finally got her own back on Jonah for continually irritating her and sabotaging her performances, and I also loved the scene where Alek and Elektra were practising improvising because it was a time when she could really let loose and be completely free. The way that her fellow members of the theatre group reacted to the transformation Alek’ undergoes after meeting Megan really moved me. They are like a family to Alek.
Aleksandra herself was a protagonist to whom I was immediately attached. I loved her enthusiasm for Oscar Wilde and actually I felt that gave me something in common with her – like Alek, I acted in an Oscar Wilde play and really love his writing style. I found Alek’s ability to assume characters when acting to the extent that she lost her stammer fascinating. Her story is one that will tear at your heart strings because you are so attached to her.
‘Girl Detached’ is very hard-hitting and deeply moving. Parts of it will make you very sad and parts very angry; parts are very difficult to read because they are so horrifying and unsettling and that is why I would recommend it to the upper end of YA. The fact that it was censored in Italy probably serves to show just how well written it is – how impactful, thought-provoking and enlightening Aleksandra’s story is. Overall, ‘Girl Detached’ is a defiant, eye-opening and unforgettable novel that will stay in your mind long after you have finished reading. I predict that in a few decades’ time, it will become a classic.