Monday, 11 July 2016

Review of the 2016 Carnegie Medal Winner: One by Sarah Crossan

by Dulcie Langley

One is a powerfully emotive and uniquely original novel, encompassing many different complex themes and emotions such as first love, loss, identity and the question of whether everyone really is born with a soulmate.

The book explores the lives of twins Grace and Tippi. But not just twins – conjoined twins. Bound at the hip, these extraordinary sisters share a bond unlike any other; they are two entirely separate individuals yet at the same time completely in sync with each other. Two people, with different hopes and dreams, but sharing one body.

But sharing this uniquely unbreakable bond is inevitably followed by physical as well as emotional difficulties, suffered not by just the sisters themselves but their surrounding family, from finding the money to pay countless hospital bills from their treatment to braving the disdainful expressions and snide comments they receive for their differences.

When their financial situation worsens, the twins are forced from their protected and secure home-schooled lifestyle to the unforgiving and judgemental world of a public school. Suddenly, there is nowhere to hide from the curious enquiries and blunt remarks from other students.
But this is just the beginning hurdle for the girls. For around the corner lies an unexpected choice – the hardest of their lives. A decision they never imagined they would have to make…

This book was unlike anything I had never read before. I enjoyed the effect of the original layout – the story was written in simple verse, and this really enhanced the delivery of the book. A poem formed each chapter, and as such I often flicked back to chapters of particular poignancy and significance in the story. Some of these poems were also very powerful not just with the One back story yet standing alone too. I had never read a young adult novel that adopted this structure before, but it was extremely effective, especially in such an intensely emotional book as One. Pinpointing and highlighting particular phrases in each line of verse instead of simple long sentences, I believe, made the impact of each word in Sarah Crossan’s thought-provoking descriptions even more important.

 Crossan is undoubtedly an incredibly talented writer. Whilst she does not have personal experience of Grace and Tippi’s struggles her heart-wrenching accounts are told with such honesty and understanding of their situation it gives a perfect justification of what they are going through, and makes their emotions tangible to the audience through a sort of ‘bare’ approach. Whilst the language is not particularly complex, this makes it more relatable to young readers, making it easier to empathise with the characters. Because whilst the story deals with some heart-breaking themes and ideas it also features everyday problems experienced by all young adults, adding to its appeal to the target audience, like secret crushes and attempting to fit in. But the problems that come with being conjoined twins mean that these everyday issues cannot be considered ‘everyday’ with the same ease. For example, the romance slipped into the story. It is deeply moving when Grace has to swallow the realisation that whilst she and Tippi can just about manage physical actions like getting dressed, with some difficulty admittedly, she can never allow herself to fall in love.

I also thought it was very poignant to just tell the story from one twin’s perspective, to continue to communicate the idea that these girls are separate yet at once a single union. Our narrator Grace recognises herself as the least confident of the pair – at one stage describing herself as a parasite to Tippi. Without wishing to give too much away, the ending especially brought out this idea of two lives being uniquely interlinked, when Grace realises that the identity she seemed to have fought to earn herself throughout her whole life with Tippi would mean nothing without her sister’s presence.
My only criticism lies in the verse layout – whilst I thought this worked positively, it meant that the story was over quite quickly. I would have liked more time to flesh out each character’s personality and perhaps add more specific details about the day to day domestic issues of the twins’ lives as well as the psychological side of the story – perhaps leaving out these sorts of petty daily issues is effective in that it demonstrates the fact that the Grace and Tippi do not see tasks such as how they get dressed, for example, as significant but just their version of ‘normal’.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to any senior school pupil – but be prepared for some tear-jerking scenes! I would advise any reader to have a hanky at the ready when reading this book.

I would definitely rate this book five stars.

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