Akin by Emma Donoghue
Picador, 2019. ISBN: 9781529019971.
(Age: Adolescent - Adult) Recommended. This beautifully written narrative takes us into the world of Noah Selvagio, an older man faced with a challenge that is unexpected. His decision to agree to guardianship of his young great-nephew, Michael, a boy who has no other living relatives, brings him a joy that we see him realise only in the last lines of the narrative. Noah had lost his wife and Michael's parents had struggled with drug use, poverty, and lost their battle to live. Vibrant, entertaining and beautifully written, this novel plunges us into the lives of two people, of vastly different ages and experience, forced together at a difficult time for both of them.
Yet while this young boy is tough, he resents being handed over to an old man whom he doesn't know. Noah's struggle to adapt to such a radical change in his own lifestyle evokes our empathy, given that he is about to turn 80, and booked to return to the country of his birth for the first time. He has only a photograph and a few ideas about his mother's life, and is eager to find a sense of how she managed, as a young Jewish woman, to escape from France during the Second World War.
In the quirky inclusion of his late wife's words of wisdom, we read of Noah imagining her commenting on his actions or telling him what to do whenever he has a decision to make. When Noah realises, with her 'help', that it is not sensible to admit to 'aches and pains' to young people as they would 'write you off', she tells him, he is convinced that he must be acknowledged as a capable and competent carer for this street-smart but needy child.
This wonderfully uplifting, rewarding novel is appropriate for both adolescent and adult readers. Emma Donoghue focuses on both the challenges and the humorous aspects of aging, the tough outer persona of youth, and the capacity for human beings to build resilience, even to developing a loving friendship, even in the most unlikely and unexpected ways. It is suitable for adult and older adolescent reading and is a delightfully wry comment on the chance of an unexpected event radically altering our lives.