Annie Demos is planning a fresh start with a new school, a new attitude, no Learning Support Assistant and more independence. When she started at her old school she quickly became known as ‘the Mouthy Girl with Cerebral Palsy’ and she ‘enthusiastically fulfilled this role for five years’. Now she is ready for a change. At sixteen and seeking an adventure, she has decided to go out into the world alone and is starting at Cliffe College.
Her first day goes well. On the train to college she runs into Jackson, a boy from her old school, who is transferring to Cliffe College because of their non-uniform policy. During classes she meets Hilary, who remembers Annie from playgroup, and, Fab. Fab, or Fabian Kaczka, is a tall, enthusiastic, energetic and polite Polish student who sits beside Annie in English and assumes she wants to be his friend. Annie and Fab share a love of reading and the power of words. They do not share the same views on love and relationships. Fab is a strong believer in romance and the potential for love to bring happiness. Annie is fiercely independent, having fought hard for this all her life, and believes that relationships threaten an individual’s identity and bring misery. Their strong opposing views about the relationships in Wuthering Heights electrify the English lessons to the delight of their English teacher as they argue about love and the power imbalance in the relationships in Wuthering Heights. This only intensifies when Fab announces he wants Annie to be his girl. Annie has no interest in being anyone’s girl, but when she pushes Fab away she misses him. She has to decide if her search for independence and adventure can include Fab and a renegotiated version of his plans.
Annie Demos was a memorable character in one of MacLachlan’s earlier books, Stargazing for Beginners. She was fiercely independent, with strong views, and a bold, defiant attitude. I was really excited to discover this was her story, and enjoyed the familiar characteristics, such as her love of reading, her pet rats Alice and Mabel, and her lime green wheelchair.
I also liked the dynamic between Fab and Annie. It is both light-hearted and intense. As English is his second language, Fab relies on Annie to explain English phrases and clarify some of the concepts in Wuthering Heights. His eagerness to please and desire to learn facilitate some interesting discussions about Annie’s experiences living with cerebral palsy, her need for independence and the importance of inclusive language. One example of this is that he opens the door for Annie and when she challenges him he politely says that he is helping her because she is an invalid. Annie explains that the term invalid implies that she is in-valid, which suggests worthlessness. Another powerful scene involves Annie and Fab facing difficulties catching a bus because two women have parked their prams in the wheelchair space and are sitting in the priority seating reserved for people who are elderly, disabled or pregnant. Fab, in turn, challenges Annie, and we see her reflecting and growing. Both characters were open to considering the other’s viewpoint and learning from this.
Needless to say, I thought this was a great story. It was funny and well paced, with strong themes and the typical roller coaster journey of young adult emotions. It had a strong focus on the concept of inclusion, and valuing and accepting human diversity. The characters were authentic, interesting, and diverse. I would recommend it for readers across the young adult range and beyond.