It’s 1996, summer is coming, and eleven-year-old Fiona Larson is determined to make this her best year yet…
The Fair is the only good thing that happens every year. And Fiona Larson is the only person in town who’s never been.
She’s pretended to go – but she’s never been allowed. Because, before Fiona was even born, her sister died there.
This year, everything will be different.
Fiona is about to turn twelve – older than her sister was. This summer, Fiona will save some money, make new friends, and finally have some fun at The Fair.
But what she’ll actually do is:
– Find a mysterious bag in a bush
– Spy on everyone
– Lose her only friend
– Make a lot of lists
– Learn the truth about what happened at The Fair…
For years Fiona has lived in her dead sister’s shadow and been banned from going to the fair because of it’s associations with Danielle’s death. But this year Fiona is determined things will change, she will finally discover how her sister died and, with or without permission, she will go to the fair.
Aiding and abetting her endeavours is her best friend Lewis, the son of her mother’s friend. Having grown up together, they understand each others idiosyncrasies as well as each other’s troubled family dynamics. While Fiona struggles with her dead sister, Lewis struggles with a controlling, bully of a father. Together, they also struggle with the minefield of school, or to be more specific, the modus operandi of fitting in and acquiring friends. It’s like everybody else but them knows and understands the rules and, on the rare occasion they think they have them sussed, the rules change again. Consequently they form their own special club of two which gives them the security and confidence to negotiate their way through.
Fiona and Lewis are wonderful characters. A perfect blend of the naivety and knowingness that comes from being eleven, but nearly twelve – as Fiona is fond of reminding us. At times they have a wisdom and guile beyond their years and at others a still childlike grasp of reality.
The grief provoked silence surrounding Danielle has led to Fiona creating her own version of her sister and how she died. For all her life she’s felt second best, Danielle even gets to keep the better bedroom because, left as it was when she died, it acts as a shrine for her mother. Fiona’s misguided attempts to discover the ‘truth’ about Danielle proves painful, for both Fiona and her parents. It forces everyone to face the ramifications of hiding the truth, and living behind a veil of secrecy.
Meanwhile, Lewis’s antidote to his unhappiness and discomfort is to escape into a world of magic and tricks, much to Fiona’s exasperation. This is largely due to his penchant for producing his magic cape at hysterically inopportune moments.
While the book undoubtedly covers the thorny issues of grief, troubled family relationships and fitting in, it is balanced beautifully by the joy created by Fiona. Fiona is such a sparky and quirky character that she lights up the book. Her desire to get to the fair leads to an ingenius and hilarious money making scheme that ensures her a popularity at school she could never have dreamed of.
The fair is also, in a sense, another character as it’s smells, sounds and sights permeate throughout the book. Fiona’s desire for the fair is visceral and one that I can fully appreciate as I come from Hull, the ‘magical place. In the East. By the Sea‘ that is namechecked in the book.
My dad told me there’s a place … where all the fairs from all of Europe all join up, every October … One big fair in every direction, as far as the eye can see .. loads of dodgems, big wheels. Waltzers and pop corn stands everywhere you look … It’s real and it’s called Hull
This aspect of the book was pure nostalgia for me, as I was similarly obsessed each year with the fair, from the pre-planning of what to wear, when was best to go and what I would go on. I desired the cheap toys won on the stalls, I wanted to buy the cheap hats and walk around with popcorn. Like Fiona, I was also obsessed by the waltzers, or more specifically, being spun round by the good looking lad in charge of them. Being totally oblivious to the fact that we were far too young (one hopes!) to be on his radar.
I’m sure for many, it will offer up a similar slice of nostalgia. Whether that be from the exhilaration of the fair; the awkwardness of schooldays; making the origami ‘fortune tellers’ (pick a colour, pick a number); the music of Abba; the joys of I-Spy or the tortuous memory of moving from childhood to adolescence.
I simply loved this book. It was charming, quirky, hilariously funny and heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting. It will undoubtedly be one of my books of the year.
(This is a voluntary review of a book I purchased myself)