Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine

Finding Violet Park

For the second time this year (only the second time, I might say), a book that I was convinced I’d adore has fallen short of my expectations and I’ve been left with that puzzled sort of feeling you get when someone tells a joke at a party and you’re the only one who doesn’t get it. With ‘Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize Winner’ and the Richard and Judy seal of approval plastered on it, Jenny Valentine’s debut novel was perhaps already too weighed down to get a completely fair trial – but I did want to love it, and I ended up somewhere between liking it and admiring it from afar.

         Sixteen-year-old Lucas Swain is slightly stoned in a cab office one night when he becomes fixated by an urn on the shelf: inside are the ashes of Violet Park, an old lady who should mean nothing to him. But ‘something’ tells Lucas that it is his duty to rescue these forgotten ashes and solve the mystery behind them – why were they abandoned in the back of a mini cab? Who is Violet Park? What message is she trying to give this lonely, introverted teenager whose entire life is overshadowed by his father’s mysterious disappearance five years ago?

         Although the story unravels in a very page-turning way, I found aspects of it contrived and I felt ultimately disappointed by the outcome of the mystery, coming from such an original premise. But I could have gotten over that if I’d felt emotionally involved in the story. As it was, I felt that the style – quirky and spare as it is (not usually a bad thing in my book) – created this story as a beautiful but untouchable bubble. I desperately wanted to break though the surface and get right inside the book, but I never quite made it bar a few glimpses. There was something a bit aloof and knowing about it that kept me at arm’s length.

          There were things about the book that I did enjoy, like the very endearing grandfather, swaying in and out of awareness, and the rather lovely Martha – Lucas’s girlfriend – who was like the ‘angel’ of the book, not quite real but very nice to have around anyway. I liked the idea of a sixteen-year-old boy running around London with an old lady’s ashes in his rucksack, and the black humour of that central premise. I particularly liked the fact that the ending wasn’t a mawkish cop-out.

It is a very thoughtful book, and there are some lovely touches, and I’m still wondering if perhaps “It’s not you, it’s me.”

5 comments on “Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine

  1. lisaonsea
    December 4, 2007

    Great review! Which age group would you say this one is aimed at? Sixteen is quite old for the protagonist of a children’s book, no? So older teen book? I do like the sound of Finding Violet Park, as it sounds like such an unusual premise. Ashes and a stoned teenager! Hehe.

  2. Luisa
    December 4, 2007

    Really interesting review. Now I’m dying to read it to see if I agree with you! I’ve been meaning to read it for ages anyway. Thanks for writing this fascinating review!

  3. Emily
    December 4, 2007

    I’d say the age group was ‘very sophisticated 12’ and up, more like 14-16 because there are far more adult characters in this than teenagers – the grandparents, Mum and Dad’s best friend get a very good look-in, which might not hold the attention of less fluent/avid readers…but that central mystery is a very good hook indeed.

  4. Jackie
    December 4, 2007

    What a very funny review, I’m still laughing as I type. Your quirky evaluation is fitting for such an unusual book but I doubt the book could be any more entertaining. I do applaud their original idea, it’s realistic & fanciful at the same time.

  5. Ariadne
    December 4, 2007

    I started reading it in proof form a year back, but put it down for one reason or another. I must get back to it, because I was actually enjoying it a lot.

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This entry was posted on December 4, 2007 by in Fiction: young adult and tagged , , .

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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