Girl Detached by Manuela Salvi
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Publisher: The Bucket List
My Rating: 5/5
Synopsis: Aleksandra has issues with her voice. Stress makes her stutter, and she can only speak clearly on stage, freed by the words of the character she plays.
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.
This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinion of the book in any way.
Hello and welcome to my first ever ARC review, which is pretty exciting! I picked up Girl Detached at YALC after seeing a little bit about it online and, hearing it was banned in Manuela Salvi’s home country of Italy, I was even more eager to give it a read. So you’ll be happy to know that I loved it! Prepare yourself for a long review because I have a lot to say!
Just a quick heads up before I begin: this review will discuss why this novel was banned in Italy, as the blurb doesn’t give much away (although you can probably make an educated guess). There won’t be any spoilers about the plot, but if you don’t want to know why it was banned and want to work it out for yourself when you come to read it, then don’t go any further.
Okay, so let’s cut to the chase. This novel deals with the grooming of young girls by adult men. You’re probably wondering to yourself, “it was banned because it talks about grooming? But that’s in the news all the time!” and you’re completely right to think that because, honestly, I have no idea why this book was banned. We see news stories about young girls being groomed so often. This isn’t anything new to us. As girls, we’re taught from a young age to stay away from strangers, especially strange men. However, what happens if a girl falls into the trap of a groomer? They’re often not seen as an innocent child who was taken advantage of, but a silly girl with loose morals.
This novel tackles the subject of grooming – and the sour light these poor groomed girls are painted in by society – extremely sensitively and with excellent clarity. Like I said before, grooming isn’t a foreign concept to us as humans, so why on earth this book was banned I have no clue. It’s not on the side of the groomers; it’s firmly on the side of Aleksandra and the other teenage girls. Perhaps the Italian government didn’t like the stark reality of the novel.
However, banning it was ridiculous. Grooming is an issue that needs to be addressed, especially amongst young people. It’s actually a good thing that Salvi has written this book for young adults because she is warning girls, and even boys, of these dangers. If we don’t warn teenagers of the troubles they might face then of course they will fall into these traps. And then, when the news gets out, they’ll be ridiculed. Many will say “They should have known better”. How could they if they had no clue what they were getting into?
But anyway, enough ranting, let’s talk about the story itself:
Aleksandra is an excellently crafted character. Shy and naive, she is taken under the wing of her new neighbour Megan, and through her meets Ruben. The blurb describes him as ‘charming’ and ‘handsome’, and he is, but he is not likeable in any way, shape or form. He’s charismatic, sure, but it’s manipulative; how else would he reel these girls in? And of course, his good looks help too. A handsome young man could never be a malicious groomer, after all. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
I hated Ruben from the start, which was a good thing. Salvi never wants us to like him and we certainly aren’t supposed to. This was one way in which Salvi’s portrait of the seedy underworld of grooming worked so well. There is never even a sliver of anything appealing about Ruben. However, I can clearly see why Aleksandra was sucked in. Showered with compliments and presents, the shy, stammering girl falls head over heels instantly. She’s never had attention from a boy before and has never been popular, so she’s an easy target for Ruben. I spent a lot of the book feeling so sorry for her and cringing because I knew what she was getting herself in for. I was never frustrated with her, however – she didn’t go into this completely blind, she had her doubts throughout – but every time she tried to pull back just a little, Ruben would charm her back in.
The plot itself is engrossing. Aleksandra spends a lot of her time at a small theatre company. On stage is where her stammer disappears and I spent a lot of my time silently pleading for her to stay at the theatre with her true friends and never leave. Characters such as Jonah and Helena I really enjoyed, and many of the other secondary characters felt just as developed as the protagonists. As things began to get more complicated for Alek and Ruben’s true colours were revealed to her, I really wanted her to tell someone, anyone, about what was happening, and I read the scenes at the theatre and at her home with bated breath, hoping for her to confess and put an end to it all. There were parts of this novel where I felt tense and unsettled, there were parts where I laughed, and there were parts where I cried. It was a very well-rounded story, with enough lightness to combat the darker sections.
As you can probably guess, I could go on and on about this book, so here’s one last point: Salvi doesn’t shy away from showcasing the seediness of Ruben and his friends. The sex scenes, whilst not extremely explicit, are never romantic or loving. They’re uncomfortable to read and I felt a lot of sympathy for Alek. However, they’re not so uncomfortable they should be banned. They’re not tactless or gratuitous, they’re handled clinically and carefully, because we’re not meant to be attracted to this world; the young adults reading this novel are not meant to be attracted in any way, and they won’t be. That’s why this book is so amazing and hard-hitting; it handles the issues so expertly.
This novel will be released in the UK on 8th September 2016.
Have you read an ARC of Girl Detached? Or are you eagerly awaiting its release? Do you think it warrants the ban it received in Italy? Let me know in the comments below!