22/07/2009

Marshmallows for Breakfast (by Dorothy Koomson)

I'd never heard of Dorothy Koomson. However I was given this book by friends for my birthday, a few months ago, and finally picked it up to read about a fortnight ago.

I was hooked by 'Marshmallows for Breakfast', pretty much from the start. The book is mainly narrated by Kendra, a young woman who recently returned from Australia to the UK, after a romantic problem. She has found a quiet studio apartment and hopes to be anonymous for a while... but finds herself rapidly embroiled in the chaotic and emotive life of her landlord and his twin six-year-olds, Jaxon and Summer.

I immediately warmed to Kendra. She has a lot of problems, which are the main focus of the book, but she's also very fond of children. Jaxon and Summer are drawn to her in the absence of their mother, and she is drawn to them. While not wanting to be involved with anyone, her heart reaches out to these rather forlorn, emotionally neglected children, whose father loves them, but doesn't know how to deal with them.

I thought the characterisation was extremely good, and I found myself particularly drawn to the twins. They're bright and loyal children who have suffered through their parents' separation - and in other ways, as becomes evident through the book - and who take this sudden and unexplained strong liking to Kendra.

There's perhaps a touch of the melodramatic in this novel. There's a prologue which slightly confused me (since I didn't know when it happened chronologically) and which gave me more clues than I wanted about the rest of the book. There are many unexplained stresses in Kendra's life, with hints given... and yet, by the time she finally writes down the history of what caused her to feel as she does, there was nothing new: the whole had been revealed already by flashbacks, asides, and intelligent guesses on the part of other characters.

There's not a whole lot of plot in the present. The novel relies on the gradual unfolding of the past, not just for Kendra but also for her landlord and his wife, and (to a lesser degree) her boss.

A surprising number of serious issues are covered - racism, workplace harrassment, the role of women, the affect of divorce on children, and several others which I won't mention, not wanting to give spoilers. They make the book thought-provoking, yet even the most unpleasant of the issues are dealt with in a sympathetic way.

If you like warm, character-driven novels with likeable people and plenty to think about afterwards, I'd recommend this highly. I shall be looking out for more by Dorothy Koomson.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 22st July 2009

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