13-year-old Sal has been planning their escape for a year. Sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend, she needs to stop the same happening to her younger sister Peppa. After taking care of Robert, Sal and Peppa go on the run, living in the Galloway Forest, armed with stolen goods and a whole lot of survival tips from YouTube.
Whilst I love survival stories and reading about rural Scotland (which takes me back to my childhood), Sal just wasn’t for me. I can see that it was trying to mimic how a child would explain stuff, you know how they just have run on sentences and use “and” a lot? Then this happened and then I said this to her and then I did this. It might be realistic, but I found it irritating to read in large portions.
A lot of survival is planning, stopping, thinking and planning and trying to see what can go wrong and thinking about what will happen if things change.
The fact that Sal recites what she has learned from the internet makes it feel like there are a lot of info dumps. I like reading about living off the land, but she just reeled off lots of tasks rather than setting the scene. The girls like to describe things by their brand names and oh god, I hate the idea of Belvita biscuits…they are just biscuits, that some marketing department has convinced people it’s OK to eat for breakfast. Just eat some blimmin’ digestives! They are mentioned so much in this book I wondered if there was a product placement deal going on.
I am far too practical but I kept thinking they’re going to run out of money if they carry on like they were. I don’t actually think Sal was that good at survival, despite all the information she had absorbed. Lucky for her, the Galloway Forest is hardly an isolated wilderness, and she can get the bus into town. Sal is smart in some ways but not others. She’s managed to research the law on murder in Scotland, yet fails to realise a child is not going to prison for life for killing her abuser.
Early on Sal reveals that she killed Robert, and throughout the book her mind goes back to what happened before. I was more engaged with these parts even though they are troubling. You discover about her mother’s alcoholism and how she planned the whole thing. There were people in their lives who cared about them and I was happy with the ending.
I couldn’t tell her anything about the flat or Maw or Robert so I used to say I felt fine and I was happy and sometimes I made up things I was worried about because she seemed to want me to feel worried about something. I once told her I was worried about climate change and I am a bit.
It’s a short book and otherwise I think it would have gone in the DNF pile, but I was already half way when the mysterious old women appears out the forest and magically provides just what they need. I didn’t see the relevance of the old woman’s tales of living in East Germany. Is Sal supposed to relate her troubled life with living under Soviet rule? Is it just an adventure story to distract them from reality?
I dunno, maybe it’s one of those books if I was a kid from Glasgow with an unstable background, I would love this story of escaping your life and living somewhere where no one can touch you. Perhaps I am just completely the wrong audience.
Sal is published by Canongate and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.