We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan
Nicu is so not Jess’ type. He’s all big eyes and ill-fitting clothes, eager as a puppy, even when they’re picking up litter in the park for community service. Appearances matter to Jess. She has a lot to hide.
Nicu shouldn’t even be looking at Jess. His parents are planning his marriage to a girl he’s never met back home in Romania. But he wants to work hard, do better, stay here. As they grow closer, their secrets surface like bruises. And as the world around them grows more hostile, the only safe place Jess and Nicu have is with each other.
Nicu and Jess may be at the same school but couldn’t be further apart when it comes to their backgrounds. Or at least that’s how it seems. Nicu is an immigrant but also a Roma Gypsy and the actions of the school bullies towards him are vile. Equally vile is the treatment of Jess and her mother by Jess’ step-father, a daily trauma Jess is desperate to hide and desperate to escape from. Jess and Nicu meet properly when they end up on a community service programme. For Nicu, it’s almost love at first sight when he sees Jess; for Jess, can she really be friends with someone who’s always a target for her mates’ bullying? Both have secrets they want to hide. As their paths collide, what at first seemed marked differences soon become the threads that hold them together. Nicu and Jess’ momentary solace in each other is short-lived and their troubles soon spill over to interfere with their plans of escape. With prejudice, hate and fear driving those around them, how can Nicu and Jess protect themselves and each other from the inevitable outcome?
We Come Apart is a brilliantly told story reflecting the somewhat grim reality of life as an immigrant and as a delinquent teen. Gritty and full of emotion the two central characters, Jess and Nicu, keep you utterly hooked. Having worked in schools for ten years, I have come across teenagers like them; they were totally believable. I found Nicu utterly endearing, very sweet and funny. Being a Roma gypsy, an outcast in his own society too, he seems more hardened to prejudice than some and perhaps this is why he still wants to stay in London despite being treated so badly here. Or perhaps it’s just the lesser of two evils; the other being an arranged marriage in his home country. Jess is someone your heart aches for; a ‘messed-up’ teen in the eyes of the world – but who wouldn’t be with such a despicable step-father to deal with? I’ve met teenagers like her who just can’t seem to move forward, don’t want to be ‘helped’ and who act so tough but on the inside are quietly screaming. She is difficult to warm to, seeming somewhat cold-hearted, but when you understand her situation your empathy for her grows.
The authors brilliantly capture teenage angst, the differences that drive many teenagers to make bad choices and how situations can escalate as a result of these choices. The thread of humour running through the narrative thankfully lightens the mood. But the sense of calamity surrounding Nicu and Jess’ blossoming romance is apparent from the start, making the good moments they share all the more meaningful. It also makes the hope they find in each other more significant. Written in verse, We Come Apart may well be an ‘easier’, shorter read, but the authors ensure every single word counts in order to create the empathy and understanding so clearly felt whilst reading it. This story is all too relevant today, tackling issues of abuse, racial bullying, knife-crime and teenage delinquency. Definitely one for YA readers, and indeed adults, it should be read to understand how prejudice of all kinds can affect young people and the danger of making assumptions about those around us. Just because our own lives may not be touched by prejudice or abuse does not mean we should stand back and do nothing about those whose lives are.
I was delighted to purchase this copy of We Come Apart at the launch evening at Waterstones in Brighton. Thank you to Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan for signing it for me.