Review: Afraid by Mandasue Heller

Thursday 1 January 2015
Title: Afraid
Author: Mandasue Heller
Publisher: Hodder
Publication Date: 1st January 2015
Pages: 352
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4.5/5
Purchase: Amazon
Mandasue Heller's thrilling novel is set on the gritty streets of Manchester.

When fifteen-year-old Skye's mother finally does something so shocking that it can't be hushed up, the police turn her over to the social workers - and that's when the nightmare begins.

She doesn't know if her father is alive or dead; the woman who is supposed to be helping her dumps her in a terrifying 'home' that's more like a jail. But she still has one friend to turn to: the sympathetic girl she's met in an internet chat room, the one who seems to have a home life as unhappy as Skye's. And Jade offers her a safe place to stay . . .

Alone in Manchester, nearly penniless, Skye is willing to trust Jade. Even when it isn't Jade who turns up at the rendezvous, but a grown-up man who says he's Jade's brother...
Christmas definitely came early when this book was posted through my letterbox and I couldn't wait to get started. I'm already predicting 2015 to be a very exciting year for fiction and it starts for me with Afraid. Mandasue's 2014 release, Respect, was probably one of her best so far and so I had high expectations for Afraid, and it did not disappoint in the slightest.

Mandasue knows what she's talking about when she writes her books. She knows the setting, having lived it and the characters that she creates. I feel this gives her somewhat of an edge, bringing to her books a gritty realism, with realistic and believable characters who are put into horrific situations. Being set in Manchester, it isn't a world away from where I live in Liverpool and some things are very recognisable to me. The emotional connection you feel towards the characters is greater, because of how real they feel.

It's hard to believe in 2015 that teenagers around the world are still falling victim to Internet predators, but it still is a problem that is prevalent and it forms the basis for Afraid when the book's main character Skye, meets somebody online who she believes to be a girl the same age as her called Jade. When a fight between her mother and father goes too far, Skye is sent to a children's home, more like a jail and nothing like Tracy Beaker, Skye soon finds herself scared and alone with nobody she feels she can turn to, apart from her online friend Jade. Arranging to meet Jade, Skye turns up to be confronted not by a teenage girl, but a grown man...

One of my blogging resolutions is to not give away too much of the plot in my reviews, so the above paragraph is pretty much all I can say. I can say however that in terms of the storyline, this is one of Mandasue's most gripping. From the outset I really took to Skye, and could feel her pain throughout the book. At times you just wanted to scream at her, remembering back to when I was 14 or 15 I was thinking I'd never be that naive, but I was never in a situation where I couldn't turn to my family and so Skye's predicament and the situation she finds herself in, probably is very true to life. In the beginning I did feel that Skye came across younger than she actually was but that soon changed when her life changes drastically. Skye and her parents I feel are victims of a flawed system, and throughout the book I found myself wanting the very best for the three of them. How some of the characters, those in authority especially, acted left me seething.

Skye is soon forced to grow up very fast, becoming an adult faster than any teenager should ever have to. Mandasue's villains are always so good, or should that be bad, that you feel actual hatred for them. The man in this book was especially evil, and despite the uncomfortable nature at times, I simply couldn't stop reading. The book is actually quite emotional in places, especially towards the end. Again to say any more would of course ruin the story, so all I can say is I highly recommend this book. It moves along at just the right pace, a pace that left me unwilling and unable to put it down, and I had this read in just two sittings. I'm still thinking about Skye now, and think this book will stick in my memory longer than most. I can't wait for Mandasue's next book, and with a move to Pan Macmillan, it's a very exciting time for Mandasue and her fans.


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