The Premise: Jess is a teen shoplifter, tormented by her mum’s horrible boyfriend and seeing no hope for the future. Nicu is a Romanian migrant, struggling for acceptance in Britain while his parents plan his marriage. The two meet in community service and a tentative friendship ensues.
Thoughts: I requested a review copy of this book because I was such a fan of Crossan’s One that I didn’t think it was humanly possible to wait till February for it to come out. We Come Apart, like One, is written in verse, which I still think is a brave and admirable choice when writing YA. The style here is less delicate than that of Crossan’s previous work, particularly to begin with as Jess spends her sections trying to convince us of how tough she is. Nicu, on the other hand, also demonstrates a different style, with his broken English simultaneously representing the torment of the outsider and providing occasional comic relief.
I think it would have been very easy for this book to be completely miserable, and it’s a testament to the writing of both Crossan and Conaghan that this isn’t the case; the bond between Jess and Nicu is so beautifully realised that the bleakness of the story can almost be forgotten at times. I found their stories very enlightening; while a very different story, I was reminded of Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow, in which a refugee boy befriended a lonely girl, which has obvious parallels with We Come Apart in both subject matter and overall message. It seems to me that stories such as these could play a really important role in educating privileged teens (like the ones I teach) about a world they know very little about. We Come Apart will be high up on my list of options for teaching next year.
Although there’s a slight Romeo and Juliet vibe here, romance doesn’t play as important a role as friendship. The last act certainly borrows some of the tragic urgency of Shakespeare’s play, and it’s very effectively done.
In Conclusion: I’m glad I read this; although it’s not a very uplifting read, it’s certainly an important one, with timely messages about tolerance and acceptance, as well as a reasonably terrifying lesson about not being able to escape your fate, no matter how hard you try.