Title: Ninepins by Rosy ThorntonSandstone Press Ltd (2012), Paperback, 320 pages
Source: review copy from the author
About the book: Laura Blackwood is a divorced mother of a preteen, 12-year-old Beth, both living in a house outside of Cambridge, England where Laura is a university researcher. Though Beth is asthmatic, they live in the fens - low marshland that has been drained but which sits on surface water, is almost always soggy, and easily flooded. Laura is called on by a social welfare worker to take in a roomer, 17-year-old Willow, who is a ward of the state, so to speak, with specific problems of her own.
How Laura copes with two somewhat unpredictable young people, one physically and the other emotionally, in a physical environment that is also unpredictable, is the main theme of the novel, as I see it.
My comments: The book is set in the fens in Eastern England, an area that's not familiar to me, so the setting of the book, in a house above a dike or ditch with deep water, and on wetland reclaimed from marsh, is part of the intrigue of the book. There is danger all around for Laura, and I became invested in the outcome of her story. Her daughter is asthmatic, which means the wet fens is not an ideal place for them to live. The house is also on the outskirts of Cambridge, relatively isolated. Her daughter Beth has to be driven to or from school or has to take the bus and return home after dark in winter, walking a good way alone from the bus stop to the house.
On top of that, their new boarder or roomer, Willow, is an unknown teenager who had to be taken from her mother and placed in foster care while she was growing up. Now seventeen, Willow rents from Laura a former pump house which has been made into a separate and independent apartment below the house. There is heavy rain, flooding during the course of the novel. Willow's former life comes back to haunt her, or haunt Laura, the adult in the home.
So many things happen, including tensions between Laura and her ex-husband, Beth's father, who has a second wife and three young sons. Beth also demands more independence from her parents as she heads towards her teenage years.
I began to really care about Laura and how she would handle and cope with the different situations that crop up, some of them pretty dangerous. I soon began to worry about Beth and Willow as well and thank heaven for the help of Willow's social worker, Vince.
The mark of good writing - the reader begins to really care about the characters, as if they were real and as if they know them personally. With good descriptions of place, people, personalities, and social situations, I found the book very engaging and almost didn't want it to end. That's maybe why I thought the book ended a little abruptly, and felt readers needed more time to see how the four people would adapt to the outcome. Otherwise, an excellent book that I highly recommend.