LIVING ON HOPE STREET
by Demet Divaroren, cover design by Debra Billson – Allen & Unwin, 2017
ages 14 and up
The thing about kaleidoscopes is that they need to have two or more points of reflection. Without those points we see only a messy collection of colours and shapes. But, with those points, we see an extraordinary array of beautiful images that meld into each other to produce something inspiring. This book is a kaleidoscope of sorts.
Living on Hope Street is populated with multiple characters whose lives are difficult, heart wrenching and desperate in many different ways.
But, as the novel unfolds, it presents that second point of reflection—and the messy collection of characters and circumstances come together to show lives of great beauty and complexity.
Individually, there is gut wrenching anguish and sadness:
The story revolves around Kane and his little brother Sam who are victims of domestic abuse. Their fears and the sense of helplessness that flows from those fears are vivid and consuming. Their mother’s best efforts to protect them have failed—she is critically injured, the boys are at risk of being sent into foster care, and there seems to be no way out.
Their neighbour Mrs Aslan lives with heartache and confusion too. Widowed and estranged from her daughter, her great hope is to find a way into the life of her daughter and now teenaged granddaughter. Yet she loves and cares for Kane and his family. She is a source of stability and peace in their lives, even while she searches for peace herself.
Gugulethu is finding her way in a new country, missing her grandmother, coping with racism, trying to settle in at school and looking for friends. She and her family are refugees from Zimbabwe
Mr Bailey carries fear in his heart every day—fear of enemies past, fear of imagined enemies, fear of the future, fear of his neighbours. He carries great love too, for his wife and his daughter and grandchildren. All of which come crashing together when his wife— the greatest joy of his life—dies suddenly.
The intermingling of their lives is not easy. It takes great tragedy to bring the neighbours together, and in many ways they maintain and enjoy their separation even through their various tragedies and occasional triumphs.
The horrors of domestic violence are the central pivot of this book, and they are awful and graphic. There's also family estrangement, racism, bullying, and a teenaged lesbian relationship. All of which make this very much a book for young adults and adults.
But, for those older readers, it’s an insightful and thought provoking look at life on the edge of collapse.
This is not a book of happy endings—though there is certainly a resolution at the end—rather, it’s a book about finding hope in endurance, in beginning again and overcoming.
It is a book stark with reality—one that reminds readers of the work still to be done in creating a society that protects and nurtures everyone.
The intermingling of lives, the impact of small actions on neighbours and family, the ripples of good and evil all come together to offer that second point of reflection and show the great beauty that is often hidden under difficult circumstances.
A few quotes:
“His smile was blunt. Only half of him was awake. Fear crawled on my skin.” - Kane
“When I come here, I bring the mud from my babies’ grave. Mr Aslan put in backyard and grow red and yellow roses. Every year they open big and when the sun shine, I see my babies’ faces in red and yellow petal.” - Mrs Aslan
“Refugee. I wrote the word on a new page. It was big and ugly and made me feel like I didn’t belong. I am more than a refugee …” - Gugulethu