The first line of Piggy Monk Square by Grace M. Jollife set the tone for the style of writing to follow. I knew right away I would like this story. “My name’s Rebecca but me mates call me Sparra cos of me legs.” (p. 1). Set in a poor section of Liverpool where to have a job is considered lucky, the story is told through the eyes of a nine-year-old, “Sparra.” In the first few pages, we can determine that no one in the neighborhood trusts the police. Predatory child molesters lurk everywhere. Whether this is true or not, the reader does not know for sure, but we do know that Rebecca believes it to be true. This is an excellent exposition of several stories that readers will discover for themselves as Rebecca and her “bezzie,” Debbie show us a world that is full of despair as far as adults are concerned. With one exception, Debbie and Rebecca accept the world as it is and make their world as pleasant as possible.
Piggy Monk Square is the name of an area with a collection of abandoned houses or tenements. Why they were abandoned, or their planned future use, is unclear and the two young people don’t care. The two claim an underground room, perhaps a basement or cellar, as their secret clubhouse. They claim the room and use parts of furniture left behind to create their own world. However, the area is patrolled by police and one day the two are visited and given a warning to not return. They ignore the warning and know they are in trouble when the same policeman catches them again. When the officer attempts to descend into the basement, he falls and injures or breaks his leg to the extent that he can not get out of the room. The two girls flee, unaware that the officer is seriously injured.
The girls are surprised when they return a few days later to find the officer still there. He is alive and breathing but very weak. His radio no longer works and there is no other person that patrols the area. He needs the girls’ help. They decide to help the officer by wrapping him in enough bandages to make him a mummy. The two know that in their world mummies live forever. That is not true for the police officer and he dies. (Not a spoiler). The rest of the novel will take place in this context as life goes on for the girls. They do not seem to have an appreciation for the seriousness of death. They accept the officer’s death and swear many “pinky” oaths to keep secret their involvement. For a lengthy period of time, the girls hear TV announcements about the on-going search for the missing policeman.
Rebecca has more important things to worry about. Her mom and dad have always had a stormy relationship. Often, Rebecca has seen that her mom and dad love each other. But there are fights. During the time of the policeman incident, Rebecca’s dad stormed out of the house and stayed away. Her mom made excuses by saying he was working a lot of overtime. Sparra’s relationship with her father is close, she prefers her father to her mother, who she thinks is cold and unfeeling. The mother comes across as a self-absorbed person with not enough room in her life for a child. Rebecca’s concern is totally fixed on the idea of having a united and loving family. A dead policeman is of little concern, no one likes police anyway. They are a part of the enemy along with a government that has little concern with the welfare of the people.
The relationship of the police and government with the poor people of Liverpool is another element of broad context for this novel. Resentment of police is justified based on several incidents in the story where police are abusive and contemptuous in relation to the public. In one case during an interview with Rebecca’s mom, while police are looking for the missing officer, one policeman implies that Sparra’s mom has a price, one he is willing to pay.
I was very happy with this novel and its presentation through the eyes of a young girl as her perceptions of the world develop. Humor is present as Sparra and Debbie get some things wrong in their interpretations of adult interactions. I give this novel five Amazon stars due to excellent writing. This is even though the ending is one I found objectionable and abhorrent. Rarely am I offended by such an ending and then still give the work five stars. I was surprised by the ending, but it was not a good surprise. I can accept that it is a realistic ending but that doesn’t make it good. This is advertised as Book One in a 1970s Liverpool Series.
The writing style is so entertaining that I will read more by this author. Perhaps she will write a sequel to this novel and expand the ending of this one. This is a stand-alone novel; there is not a cliffhanger. This sells for USD 5.99 on Amazon but through the mysteries of marketing, I managed to pay USD 0.99. It is worth the higher price.