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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Thrilling Thursday: Review of This Is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees

This superb novel is no light, fluffy read - but is an experience well worth having.

Author: Celia Rees
Title: This is Not Forgiveness
Genre: Thriller (YA)
Series: no
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Published: Dec 2011 (e-book) Feb 2012 (paperback)
Source: purchased on my Kindle

Find it at Goodreads or Amazon UK

The blurb says:
Everyone says that Caro is bad . . . but Jamie can't help himself. He thinks of her night and day and can't believe that she wants to be his girlfriend. Gorgeous, impulsive and unconventional, she is totally different to all the other girls he knows. His sister, Martha, hates her. Jamie doesn't know why, but there's no way he's going to take any notice of her warnings to stay away from Caro.

But as Jamie falls deeper and deeper under her spell, he realises there is more to Caro - much more. There are the times when she disappears and doesn't get in touch, the small scars on her wrists, her talk about revolutions and taking action, not to mention the rumours he hears about the other men in her life.

And then always in the background there is Rob, Jamie's older brother, back from Afghanistan and traumatised after having his leg smashed to bits there. Jamie wants to help him, but Rob seems to be living in a world of his own and is increasingly difficult to reach.

With Caro, the summer should have been perfect . . . but that isn't how things work out in real life, and Jamie is going to find out the hard way.

My verdict: A harrowing, can't-look-away thriller. Strongly recommended to teens and up.
The bulk of this novel centres on Jamie and is told in his voice. We know from the start that Rob is dead (Jamie is focusing on his ashes and thinking about his poorly-attended funeral), and that his was not the only death. Then we skip back in time, knowing we are being inexorably propelled to the catastrophic event that led to Rob's sorry little funeral.

Before long, we are involved in Jamie's life, with some chapters in Caro's or Rob's voice. These additional voices enrich the narrative and provide some context, but they do not divide our loyalties. Jamie is definitely the sympathetic character here. Yes, we feel some pity for Rob (with his clear PTSD and physical injuries), but our true sympathies are clearly drawn to Jamie. At least, that's my experience. I quickly lost count of the number of times I wanted to say "No Jamie! Don't ....!". Both Rob and Caro have reasons to act the way they do, and are subject to past hardships, but ultimately both behave in ways that are difficult to justify, especially towards Jamie.

As a thriller, this novel is totally absorbing. It's clear things are going to end badly, but we don't know the specifics, and that is what keeps us reading. The characters are all fully-fleshed, interesting, and believable, if we can't easily like them all. Each character's voice is clearly differentiated and reflects their personality; there is no way you could read this and be confused by the three narrators.

I haven't read any other Celia Rees novels (I know, I'm hanging my head typing this), but I certainly will. I understand that this is different to many of her other works, but regardless of topic, genre or setting, it demonstrates her ability to create compelling characters and an airtight plot with twists and turns.


  1. You must read some of Celia's other books. I can highly recommend Pirates and I loved Witch Child and Sorceress.

  2. I don't think I've come across this one before or read any of the author's other books. Having read your review though, I'm definitely going to have to check this one out. Brilliant review! :)


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