Kadie Hunte is, by her own admission, a difficult character – but then she has every reason to be. She has lived in a succession of foster homes since her mother died and her father vanished from her life and she has learned that trust is a risky commodity, likely to bring with it a significant amount of betrayal. And so she acts, refusing to accept support or conciliation, destroying relationships before they can destroy her. She has her inviolate rules and to abandon them is to suffer and be destroyed.
Rebecca Henry has created a complex, explosive character and taken us to live inside her head. The intensity of the confrontations she immerses us in is ceaseless, the angry drip of a leaking tap, the wrench of a mundane exchange into a high velocity verbal weapon. Music – listened to and written – stops the barrage. All the things which her head refuses to let her feel seep into her raps and songs. Her other coping mechanism is Emerson, her knife, her route to self-harming.
Then her self-imposed isolation from all that could nurture her is put under severe strain as a result of a compassionate and caring foster mother, Charmaine, a group of boys at school who love her music and invite her into their clique in order to work with her and, finally, Dayan, who she finally accepts as a friend. Her path is still paved with difficulty – her behaviour marks her out and she is relentlessly and viciously bullied on social media, which Henry portrays with complete veracity. But when Dayan is beaten up she supports him and, in turn, when she is expelled for her desperate use of Emerson to escape her tormentors but forgiven by Charmaine she realises that it is time to take the first very tentative steps towards abandoning her internal emotional rules.
This is a keenly observed and high-octane narrative in which Henry engages both our sympathy and our frustrations with Kadie. At times the patois in which the characters converse is somewhat mystifying but it gives a further ring of authenticity to what is a compelling and thought-provoking literary debut.