Title: Furious Thing
Author: Jenny Downham
Publisher: David Fickling Books
SPOILER ALERT | this review contains details about the novel’s ending and some specific scenes within the book
This one really missed the mark for me. I thought it had huge potential, but there were too many things that I couldn’t agree with in its execution.
The portrayal of Lexi’s age seemed really inconsistent. I was trying to figure out how old she was from the beginning of the first chapter, and I thought she was about 13 until her mother mentioned her 16th birthday in a couple of months, and I was shocked. The narrative voice just seemed a lot younger, and this carries on throughout the novel. She is 15, almost 16, and at certain points she appears to have the emotional maturity of a 12 year old, if that, and at other points she is drinking and trying to do drugs and have sex. She also has a severe lack of dialogue when it comes to explaining the emotions she is feeling and the actions she is witnessing. She understands that John, her step-father, is emotionally abusing her mother, yet has no understanding of abuse and gas lighting and manipulation. She merely deems her mother weak and John a bully, and struggles to describe the way John acts towards her and her mother. She erupts into explosions of anger, throwing things out of windows and smashing things, raging and swearing, in order to turn the blame away from her mother and towards herself, but then is completely incapable of articulating his abusive nature to herself or anyone that may be able to help. She appears very naive in expecting her mother’s friend to whisk them away to live with her when all she is able to say effectively boils down to John is bad.
But then, at the same time, she is able to buy train tickets and travel across the country, strip naked and attempt to have sex with her step-brother (don’t get me started on that one), and recognise when boys are attracted to her at a party where she gets violently drunk and tries to do drugs. For me, the two narratives just didn’t fit together.
Throughout the novel, there are many situations portraying John’s abusive nature, both as a partner and a father figure. He emotionally abuses Lexi’s mother and Lexi throughout the novel, and through flashbacks it is clear that this behaviour has been going on for years. He is a serial cheater, and gaslights the woman he *loves* by calling her hysterical and dramatic. He threatens to leave her, and does several times, before returning each time with a grand apology and waits for her to apologise and submit to him again. He never wanted Lexi in his life, and at the beginning of the relationship he forced Lexi to spend time with her grandfather. When Lexi’s grandfather dies, he places the blame on Lexi, and brings it up repeatedly to tell her that she is a bad person. He convinces Lexi’s mother that Lexi needs medical intervention, that she’s crazy, she needs help, he shouldn’t have to deal with her. And on and on it goes.
He is, quite frankly, a despicable person.
He is an abuser.
And yet, somehow, he is never called this. He is not properly condemned for his actions. He is, at worst, called “a bully”. A bully.
By the novel’s conclusion, does the mother realise she has been manipulated for years? Does she understand the nature of the hurt that she has caused her daughter for years? Does she vow to put her daughter first, and leave John? Nope.
She admits that he can occasionally be a bit of a bully to her daughter, and this is treated as a miraculous step towards a lifetime of happiness. I completely understand that this is the situation for many people in abusive relationships, and I am in no way attempting to criticise the mother, who is portrayed as having no sense of self-worth or esteem throughout the novel, for being abused. But, in my opinion, the ending of the novel should not be portrayed as a success and that’s how it felt. A step forward perhaps, with the implication that things will drastically change. That the mother is beginning to see the depths of the abuse she and her daughter have suffered. But there is nothing.
Wait, there’s more. From the outset of this novel, the blurb in fact, it is clear that Lexi is in love with her step-brother Kass. Technically they are not even step-siblings as their respective parents aren’t married yet, and they are not blood relatives. That element of the relationship would be a bit weird, but as they aren’t related I could kind of overlook it. But it just kept getting weirder and weirder. At one point she admits that at the age of 10 (and him being 12), he poured jam over her stomach and then licked it off…WTF?? And this was used as one of several examples she uses that clearly shows he is in love with her, and always has been??? Along with sucking the blood off her cut finger, and giving each other pretend love-bites. At this point, the book really lost me.
Also, just as an added bonus, I thought the title really oversold Lexi’s fury. I was expecting a lot more than a couple of broken windows and smashed crockery, yelling and swearing. The monster inside of her waiting to erupt and dispel chaos didn’t really amount to the “fireworks” it was claimed to be and I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more to it.
I really liked the idea of this book, but it just let me down. I was still gripped by it, and I found it interesting. The storyline had promise, and at certain points I really thought it was going to pull through and end up as a book I really enjoyed. A daughter overcoming her emotionally abusive step-father. I completely understand that it can’t always be like that, and I would have understood had that not been the outcome. But, I really felt as though the situation was made out to be a lot more successful than it was, and that the actions of an abuser went unpunished.