Siobhan Dowd is my favorite YA author. My numero uno, most wonderful, exceptional choice for best. I think her superlative novel is Bog Child, but Solace of the Road wouldn't be far behind that in quality. This was my second time reading Solace, and I think I loved it even more the second time around. Dowd's craft showed through more brightly for me this time.
Everything in this book hangs on the depiction of the main character, Holly
Hogan. A teenager who pretends she has it all together, with a rough and tough
exterior, but who is, in reality, no more or less than a little girl lost,
searching desperately for who-knows-what in all the wrong places. Dowd paints
Holly in such realistic strokes: she is prickly and has many unlikable
qualities, but, at the same time, you can't help but feel for Holly and want
desperately for her to find what she is looking for. Holly is yearning to be an
adult, at the same time that she, unknowingly perhaps, is searching for someone
to take care of her. It would have been so easy for Dowd to simply depict Holly
as a character to evoke pity, but she resists that temptation and makes her a
real teenager - with all the selfishness, naivety, and, yes, innocence that entails.
When Holly decides to steal her foster mother's blond wig and run away as her
alter-ego, Solace, only a little ways into the book, you understand completely
why she would want to escape her real existence and try to become someone who
is confident, beautiful, and most importantly, carefree. I know I have wanted
to escape who I really am and be somebody else for even just a little while.
Holly takes those desires to the extreme, but, the way Dowd writes it, it is a
totally realistic reaction to Holly's orphan-in-the-system life. As Dowd slowly
reveals more and more about Holly's childhood, you understand more and more why
Holly would want to run away, and why she might be scared of the love her
foster family seems to be showing her.
Another of the beautiful qualities of this book is the strong sense of
place. You feel like you are right there with Holly, hitchhiking across England
and Wales. The slang takes a bit of getting used to, but it serves to make the
interactions that much more authentic. Dowd is also an expert at delineating
emotions. You feel Holly's fear when she meets bad characters, and her
uncertainty and joy when she meets people who treat her well. You understand
Holly's attempt to be an adult, all the while you realize that she is really
just a kid trying to act like a grown-up. It's a fine line to walk, and Dowd
does it expertly. Finally, the sentence level writing is just stellar. Dowd has
a sort of sad, melancholy quality to her words that's difficult to describe but
leaves you feeling wistful and introspective. This is such a lovely book, and I
wish more people would pick it up and get to know Holly Hogan and Siobhan Dowd.