Review Blog

Mar 07 2013

All this could end by Steph Bowe

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Text Publishing, 2013. ISBN 9781921758447.
(Age: 15+) Steph Bowe's first novel was an absolute gem, with credible characters facing emotional dilemmas. Her latest novel seems more uneven in credibility and characterisation. On the surface, our protagonists (Nina and Spencer) seem to have little in common. Nina's family moves around a lot, living closely in tiny apartments or motel rooms... and they rob banks for a living! Spencer has lived in the same large house all his life but his family are distant; his father is that pillar of respectability, a bank manager.
What brings these two together is a shared sense of isolation. Nina remains aloof from her classmates due to her family's criminal history; Spencer remains aloof out of social awkwardness. Nina can't wait to escape her family's criminal lifestyle but refuses to challenge her mother directly. Spencer feels helpless as he watches his family growing further apart.
Whilst many teens will empathise with Nina and Spencer's uncertainty about their futures, credibility is sometimes stretched in this novel, particularly with Nina's family. Could her father really be so blindly in love with his wife that he can't see why his children should not be living a life of crime? The novel's denouement also seems just a little too easy. Whilst Spencer's final comment may express a lovely sentiment, it hardly seems realistic given what has already occurred.
Some of the characterisation is initially handled awkwardly, too. When Spencer is first introduced we seem to be told a lot about his personality rather than being allowed to see his traits in action. His love of words, for instance, only comes into play late in the novel. Perhaps the fact that his story is told in third person (rather than the first person used for Nina) actually works against his character development.
Despite these credibility strains, there is also a lot to enjoy in this novel (particularly in Spencer's friend, Bridie). There is also a lot to ponder (about parental responsibility, for a start) so fans of Steph Bowe's first novel may well be won over by novel's end.
Deborah Marshall

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