From the first haunting line – “They tried to make me go to my sister’s funeral today” – to the shocking denouement, Black Heart Blue is one of those books that you simply have to keep reading.
I tore through Louisa Reid’s debut novel in one sitting, horrified by the cruelty that twin sisters Hephzibah and Rebecca are forced to endure at the hands of their parents, and moved by their brave attempts to find freedom.
Black Heart Blue is billed as a young adult (YA) novel but I reckon teenagers and adults alike will be gripped by the story. Reid, an English teacher at a girls’ school in Cambridge, wrote it in five months and has produced an absorbing, pacy tale about horrific family secrets and what really goes on behind closed doors.
Hephzi and Rebecca are 16 when the novel begins. After a lifetime of being educated at home and not allowed to mix with other children, they’ve persuaded their father, an outwardly respectable vicar, to let them go to sixth-form college. But while Hephzi is beautiful, daring and determined to lead a normal life with her friends, Rebecca, who’s been disfigured since birth, is very much in her shadow. Until, that is, Rebecca loses her twin in terrible circumstances and starts fighting back.
The novel shifts back and forth in time as the two girls take it in turns to tell their stories, buttit’s so skilfully done that the narrative never loses its way. This gritty, dark tale isn’t for the faint-hearted but it’s astonishingly, breathtakingly good.
Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid (Penguin, £6.99)