‘Spin the globe,’ says a character at the beginning of this timely and thoughtful novel, which expressly sets out to demonstrate how ‘we’re all connected’. The global theme is developed as a teenage girl from Somalia is smuggled into Britain, where she is given a new name (Khadija) and lodged with a family in the Somali community in London. There, she is spotted by a world-famous fashion-designer, Sandy Dexter, who promotes her as the next supermodel. Meanwhile, back in Somalia, Khadija’s brother is kidnapped in the expectation of a substantial ransom. The story reaches its climax as Sandy stages a fashion-show in a remote Somali village, webcast live to the press in London.
Cross presents the main story in the form of three parallel first-person narratives – by Khadija herself, Abdi (her adoptive brother in London) and Sandy’s teenage daughter, Freya. This device gives us varying viewpoints from well-defined characters: Khadija finds England to be ‘a small cramped country, where everything had to be hidden’, and longs for ‘the simple, clean space of the open desert’, while Abdi (who is of Somali extraction but Netherlands-born and British-raised) wonders which country he belongs in. In contrast to the extended families of the Somalis, Freya’s parents are divorced but continue to collaborate – and involve Freya – in the cut-throat world of the media, where you can discover that ‘your fairy-godmother is really a wicked witch’. There is, however, no idealisation of either side: the Somali ‘family’ can be just as treacherous. And the different worlds can communicate by email, read about each other on the internet and watch the same grand-prix racing on television. While Freya tells us that her mother, Sandy, ‘thinks that the whole world is there for her to exploit’, her father later points out that ‘she might make some people think’ by highlighting Somalia in her fashion-show.
The book is lucidly written with a clear and engrossing narrative, while allowing for an underlying complexity. The stated theme of interconnectedness finds expression not only in the plot and references to global media, but also in the neat dovetailing of the different point-of-view chapters, which drives the story forward. Although there is an underlying theme of violence, there are few direct instances, and we are left to imagine the horrors that Freya sees in her father’s 15-year-old photographs of the war in Somalia. This is an excellent book for over-12s, and may be appreciated by some younger children.