Under the shadow of trauma, Liam has been discharged from the army. As night terrors torment him and he struggles to keep his anger intact, he finds himself in his car, his daughter Alannah asleep in the back, while his wife Emma has gone AWOL. With no idea where to go for shelter, his only goal is to hold onto his daughter at all costs. But Alannah is on a journey of her own.
As the consequences of Alannah’s choices unfold, nothing will ever be the same again.
Soldier Boy is gripping story about secrets, fear, longing, lies and the power of being true to yourself, even when the price is higher than you could have imagined.
There was so much to think about and digest within Soldier Boy that I was unsure my review would do it justice, but i have had a go.
I will start with the characters. Liam, husband, father, son, two years out of the army, struggling with PTSD, life in general and in a suspended state of denial, unwilling to seek help.
Emma, wife, mother, the one left at home to get on with it, the one who tried to hold it together, as she threw herself into a swirl of superstitious rituals to keep Liam safe and poured all her love and energy into daughter Alannah.
Alannah, the young girl, the one stuck in the middle, obsessed with body image, with ballet, with the way she looked, her feelings hidden, her parents oblivious.
It was not until Emma walked out the door that Parkin unleashed a myriad of simmering emotions, and psychological trauma’s that commanded you attention.
Perhaps the most shocking was that of Alannah, one very mixed up young girl, who grappled with not only body image but gender, impending puberty a real fear. I so admired Parkin’s ability to understand her thought process, her utter torment that shocked but also educated, Alannah’s ultimate act of defiance one of pure anguish, one that I will never forget.
Whilst Alannah’s issues were an important part of the novel, it was Liam’s that cast a shadow, that had an impact on the family. Here was a proud man, drafted out of the army with PTSD, a man in total and utter denial. Parkin once again dug so deep within Liam, that you became immersed in Liam’s battle with himself. You felt his overriding need to control absolutely everything within his world, the obsessive tidying, the need to control his own emotions and those of others. You watched as he shifted the blame for the family break up and his daughter’s issues to wife, Emma, you felt immensely frustrated as you looked for chinks, glimmers of hope that he would finally accept defeat and seek help.
Emma was the absent one, the one who got away from it all, took herself to a hotel to have that freedom to think, to work out exactly what would make her life better. Did she find the answers? Of course not, it merely opened up the years of having to cope, of supporting a young child, of accommodating a largely absent husband, of making space on his return, turning her routine upside down to fit in with his wants and needs. Yet Emma knew it wasn’t enough, his permanent presence an ever increasing dark cloud, that suffocated and pushed her to the edge.
Before we could catch our breath, Parkin delivered a punch that shocked, not only us but also the characters and she cleverly turned their thoughts outward, to a realisation they would have to emerge from their own personal dramas and concentrate on the one thing that really mattered, their daughter.
You truly wanted that happy ending but Parkin wasn’t writing a novel to make it comfortable for the reader or necessarily to give us what we wanted and this was what I truly admired. She was immensely brave, but also brilliantly skillful in navigating such a complex novel of difficult and controversial themes, and her ability to turn it all into an utterly awe inspiring piece of writing.
I would like to thank Legend Press for a copy of Soldier Boy to read and review and to Lucy Chamberlain for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Cassandra Parkin grew up in Hull, and now lives in East Yorkshire. Her short story collection, New World Fairy Tales (Salt Publishing, 2011), won the 2011 Scott Prize for Short Stories.