Title: What was never said
Author: Emma Craigie
Series: Stand alone
Publisher: Short books
Rating: 4.5 stars
5-year-old Zahra has lived in England most of her life, but she is haunted by memories of her early childhood in Africa: the warm sun, the loud gunfire, and happy days playing with her older sister before "the visitors" came. It is hard for Zahra to make sense of everything that happened, and the terrible events are impossible to talk about, but when three familiar women arrive unexpectedly for tea, Zahra realises that the dangers of the past could still destroy her.
I have to admit that when I started this book I was almost in total ignorance of FGM. I’d vaguely heard of it somewhere, but had no real clue what it was, why it was done or being totally honest, what the acronym stood for. (For those of you reading this, who are in the same boat as I was and are sitting completely oblivious and totally confused, it stands for Female Genital Mutilation -an illegal practice in the UK and many other parts of the world.) Before I go into my review, I’d just like to say a little bit about FGM for any readers who are still unaware, like I was and also because I think it is something that isn’t discussed enough due to its sensitive and private nature, and yet it is a practice that I believe should be recognised by more people. FGM is a tradition carried out in many cultures and religions, usually it is done in the belief that it will make it harder for women to experience sexual pleasure and/or to protect a girls’ virtue. It is done without anesthetic of any kind and as a result is scarring to its victims both physically and mentally, hence its prohibition in this country.
For someone to write about such a delicate subject, which I certainly have not seen before in literature, I believe is bold, daring, shocking and frankly a little inspiring. Emma Craigie approaches the subject well and daringly. I was truly impressed by how she met the subject head on and although she didn’t go into excruciating detail, she gave just the right amount of detail to explain FGM and its consequences but not too much so that the more squeamish among us were writhing in our seats.
I was also amazed at how she managed to shove herself into someone else’s very different sized shoes. Such detail of feeling typical of a fifteen-year-old girl was given that it was easy to assume the book was of a biographical nature. I was astounded at the descriptions of Zahra’s native land (Somalia) and also the culture difference and her thoughts and feelings.
I completely loved the layout of the book and how it jumped from the present to Zahra’s memories of Somalia and her growing up. I also loved the varying chapter sizes as it made reading easier and also kept the fast pace going.
It was also an exciting read. It gripping throughout and I honestly had it wrestled off me by my parents demanding I go to bed at some points as I quite literally couldn’t put it down! I was never bored or felt the heaviness of dread set in when I thought of having to pick it back up. It was a true delight.
The writing style wasn’t too complex even though the book was of a more adult nature and I think this helped to make the book easier to read, considering it was about such a heavy topic.
I thought the characters were all well described: there was enough there for you to picture them but still enough detail left out to get your imagination working. I also liked how they all fit really well into their backgrounds and all had something to add to the plot.
The plot was really good and well thought out. It had quite a few significant twists and turns which kept me on my toes, which I enjoyed as it raised the tensions and really helped to convey Zahra’s mind-set.
Possibly my favorite aspect of the book was that it is from Zarah’s perspective and is written to her sister. I think this makes the story even more hard hitting and it has that touch of raw honesty one uses with ones we love, and this really touched me in places.
…I’ve now been sat at my computer screen picking my brains for something to criticize the book and after struggling for a while, I’ve managed to deduce that if I could change the book in anyway, I’d maybe prolong it a little. This sounds odd I know and to many of you you’ll be thinking…is it not a good thing you want to read more? And it is, however, I felt the book almost had a sense of being rushed slightly at the end. I realize that many events have to happen at once sometimes in order to build the story up to climax but I thought maybe the ending seemed to have a little too much happening all at once. I suppose in some ways this reflects Zahra’s life and her inner stress and how everything seems to go wrong all together but I still felt rushed into an ending.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book to any teenage or adult girl or boy, as I think it would be interesting to see how boys react to a book relating to more female issues. This book is a very rare thing. Not only does it educate us but also it provides us with a story that highlights issues that are forgotten in many of our lives, yet poignant in others. I think of it as a triumph in modern writing of this nature.