Look me in the eye by Jane Godwin

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Well-known children’s author Jane Godwin has again shown that not only does she write award-winning picture books but that she has a keen sense and understanding of what it takes to write another compelling and engaging YA novel.  Following on from As Happy As Here, When Rain Turns to Snow and A Walk in the Dark, Look Me in the Eye is about three girls just beginning high school who are navigating life after COVID lockdowns and are dealing with an intense, complicated yet increasingly fractured friendship.

Bella and Connie have been trusted friends forever but when Connie’s older cousin Mish enrols in their new high school and is in the same Year 7 class as the two girls, their friendship is tested in ways that they would never have thought possible. Living on the outskirts of the city, with the suburban sprawl slowly heading their way, Bella and Connie live in happy, comfortable homes, with Bella’s mother about to have a baby with her partner Pete, and Connie’s stable family of four focused on seven-year-old June who was premature as a baby and has significant health issues. Mish, on the other hand, comes from what appears to be the ‘perfect’ wealthy family but struggles with her own self-worth and a hostile relationship with her fanatical and over-protective father.

Under constant surveillance Mish has no privacy or independence at all. Her father tracks her every move, monitors her conversations, is scathing with his words, with his treatment of Mish bordering on abuse. What else can Mish do but try to break away from his rigid set of rules in the only way she knows how, through lying, stealing, and denying her body of food. Mish drags Bella and Connie into her dangerous schemes with serious consequences and valuable life lessons for all three girls.

There are many important and relevant themes discussed in this story. The use of tracking apps, hidden devices for recording, coercive and manipulating behaviour, mental health, body image, plus the ever-increasing issue with vaping amongst high school students. Perhaps though, the more important and most complex theme is that of trust. Who do you trust? How do you know you can trust them? What happens when that trust is broken? Can trust be repaired?

A very thought-provoking and insightful read. Teacher's notes are available.

Themes: Trust, Surveillance, Friendship, Family, Bullying, Manipulation, Theft, Consequences.

Kathryn Beilby