C J Flood’s debut Infinite Sky won the Branford Boase Award in 2014. Her new book Nightwanderers is another beautifully written, thought-provoking novel that absolutely captures the thoughts and feelings of a teenage girl at a time of real drama.
‘Whenever I heard the word kindred, I thought of me and Ti’, says central character Rosie about her best friend. Ti fascinates Rosie from her first day at school when, caught in the rain, ‘she didn’t run shrieking to the veranda like the rest of us girls, but stood face to the sky, and let herself get drenched.’ Rosie longs to be as brave and wild as Ti, and they are never closer than on their secret night-time excursions along the cliff-tops near the little seaside town where they live, and even through their neighbours’ gardens. This nightwandering is at the heart of the book: out at night when it’s so dark they can’t even see, we feel the very essence of the two girls, and it’s on one of these adventures that the pivotal event happens that pushes Rosie and Ti apart. Spying on the teacher who had her twin sister Ophelia expelled, Ti is caught, and expelled too as a result. Rosie is there but fails to defend her friend.
Rosie’s home life is anything but free. Her mother is ill – later we learn she has chronic fatigue syndrome – and Rosie is under pressure not to do anything that will add to the stress her mum feels. There’s no way she can risk standing up for Ti and her dad is only too happy when their friendship seems to be lessening. A possible romance with a boy in her class serves to push Rosie and Ti further apart, and a combination of circumstances leads to apparent tragedy.
In fact, unlike Infinite Sky, Nightwanderers is a book of second chances, and Rosie and Ti (it’s short for Titania, surely no accident) are allowed a happy ending. Yet, there’s a tension throughout, and it’s very much a book of brinks, literally, as the girls wander those cliff tops, and metaphorically – we feel that at any moment it could all fall down. Flood explores ideas of identity and self; readers will understand and care about her characters, and take something special from this book.