Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hitchhiking

Sometimes you just want to read everything an author has produced. How sad, then, that Siobhan Dowd's four novels are all we will get from her. (Although the website devoted to the Trust she set up before her untimely death tells us that the great Patrick Ness will be writing a novel inspired by some notes. And speaking of Ness, his Chaos Walking trilogy is just crying out for an audio version. [Update 8/17/10: Brilliance Audio is publishing all three next month!]) Solace of the Road makes me a Dowd completist. And that makes me sad. Her work is so honest and the teen voice is so real and compelling that it just seems wrong that there will be no more.

Solace is Holly Hogan. Holly is 17 and has spent a decade in England's foster care system, mostly in a group home for the more incorrigible teenagers. She is placed with a childless couple for whom she feels mostly contempt -- in part because they seem to trust her so much. Snooping one day, she finds the blond wig that her foster mother wore during chemo, and putting it on, Holly transforms into Solace -- beautiful, confident, needing no one. When she's Solace, she can make that long-anticipated trip to Ireland, where her bar-dancing mother waits for her. So, she steals the wig, some money and hits the road.

The novel is structured quite cleverly. At the beginning, Solace has succeeded in sneaking aboard a car ferry from Wales to Ireland, and she tells us the story of how she got there -- periodically bringing us back to the present. There are a few heartstopping moments (unsurprising when you realize that this a story of a hitchhiking teenage girl), but a number of heartwarming ones as well, as Solace takes comfort from a number of strangers along her journey. As readers, we know there's a lot that Solace/Holly isn't acknowledging about her life, so the unwinding of her story requires patience as it almost feels like we are traveling with her in real time.

An Irish reader named Sile (pronounced Sheila) Bermingham narrates the story. She's got a lovely voice and knows how to pace this somewhat leisurely novel. I particularly enjoyed how she moves from Holly to Solace and back again. Holly reappears when Solace removes (or loses) the wig, and Bermingham's voice changes from hard and alluring to a tentative, more childlike demeanor when this happens. My post-Odyssey ears took a moment to relax when I heard Holly refer to her South London accent, because I heard more of an Irish lilt, but then I remembered that this really doesn't matter to a casual listener.

Solace meets a number of interesting people on her journey and Bermingham creates some nice characters. Most memorable (since it's been about three weeks since I finished this) was the creepy guy she picks up at the bar and the vegan truck driver. It's a very good interpretion. More than two years ago, I heard Bermingham read Runemarks and I enjoyed that performance as well.

This audiobook was the last of my "personal" collection, amassed over four years of committee-based, publisher-supported listening. Everything is now in the library's donation crate: for educators and summer readers. We had a teacher training yesterday, where a whole lot of the audiobooks were given away. As I unpacked them, it was fun to revisit some old friends: Life As We Knew It, Lamplighter, The Night Tourist, Thirteen Reasons Why. I must stop.

Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd
Narrated by Sile Bermingham
Listening Library, 2009. 7:05 (unabridged)

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