Source: Review copy
Publication: Out in e-book now and in paperback on 23 January 2020 from Orenda Books
One more little secret
One more little lie…
When the body of a pregnant fifteen-year-old is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised. For she lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away…
As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking and distressing revelations … and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge.
A gritty, dark and harrowing psychological thriller, The Home is also a heartbreaking drama and a piercing look at the underbelly of society, where children learn what they live… if they are allowed to live at all…
I’m wrung out after reading Sarah Stovell’s stunning new book, The Home. After the excellent Exquisite, I knew she could write beautifully but this is another step up in her writing prowess.
If ever there was a case for a book that should include emergency puppies with every copy, this is it. Sarah’s writing though is spot on; sharp, beautifully intense and very dark. I sat down to begin this book after lunch one day and at 7pm I was still reading, unable to give it up, such is the grip it extended on my heart.
The Home is a finely crafted, beautifully wrought story of three young girls, hell no, three young children. Each has come from a very difficult background. Each has been unable to root in the foster system and now these three children are in a Home; the only occupants of Hillfoot House, out in the rural Lake District where there is less opportunity for trouble making. There may be one adult for every child, but the staff are underpaid and demoralised and the children themselves are lost and hurting in a world that has never, ever been kind to them and their behaviour is always designed to challenge their keepers, for that is what they feel like – animals in a small zoo.
These are characters who stay with you; characters who burrow their way into your heart until it aches for them; people whose hurt you want to take away, knowing that is never possible. A short opening prologue sets a devastating tone of bleakness that never disappears; preparing the reader for some very tough times ahead.
It is Christmas Eve and the manager of Hillfoot House, Helen, is preparing Christmas dinner for her own children when she receives news that one of her charges at the home has been found dead. Another lies beside her, frantic with grief.
Annie and Hope are 15 year old residents of the home who formed a bond they thought was unbreakable. Both had deeply traumatic upbringings with parents who for one reason or another were unable to take responsibility for their own lives, never mind those of the children they brought into the world. Together they have found love in each other.
The third resident is 12 year old Lara. Her background is no different, but she is younger and so completely traumatised that she no longer speaks at all, but is introverted and simply curls up as small as she can, watching and listening to everything that goes on in the home.
The story of these vulnerable children is told in three voices. Annie, Hope and Helen. Annie and Hope’s stories are grim. Theirs was no rosy cheeked childhood full of laughter and joy; rather they have tales of a darker and more sordid kind; of drugs and abuse, alcohol and harm. They tell their stories with such honesty and clarity that it is difficult not to flinch away from what they have endured.
Helen, as manager, tries her best to bring warmth and kindness into their lives, but has no resources and is overwhelmed by the challenges she faces.
Annie clings on to the hope that she can better herself through studying. She believes that she can escape her past through diligence, hard work and sheer force of will. Hope has no such self-regard; her whole life she has been dependent on others to survive and has undergone some truly awful experiences in order to do so.
But in finding each other, Annie and Hope have created a space where each feels safe with the other and they have been making plans to live together when as is inevitable, the home is forced to close in cost savings measures. Whether the reader can rely on their narration, though is a question that hangs in the air as we read.
The Home is the story of these three girls and how one of them came to be lying dead and pregnant in the churchyard, her body held by her grief-stricken partner. It is strong, compelling and has an utterly haunting impact.
Beautifully told, Stovell keeps the reader guessing as she builds up a picture of the lives of these children which comprise self-harm, child-grooming and psychological abuse and yet shows us that hope can still shine through in an immersive thriller that keeps the reader guessing until the very end.
Verdict: There’s tension, mystery and shedloads of suspense threaded through this spell-binding psychological thriller. It may be dark and heart-breaking, but it is also immersive, raw and captivating. The Home goes straight on to the must read list for 2020.
Sarah Stovell was born in 1977 and spent most of her life in the Home Counties before a season working in a remote North Yorkshire youth hostel made her realise she was a northerner at heart. She now lives in Northumberland with her partner and two children and is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Lincoln University. Her debut psychological thriller, Exquisite, was called ‘the book of the summer’ by Sunday Times.