Laura has found her niche in educating ex-offenders and is delighted to be starting a new job as director of the education at a big women’s hostel in London.
As Laura starts in her new post she is startled to find that one of her teachers wont actually be reporting to her for the foreseeable future. Antoinette Vaughn is an enigma Laura could definitely do without. Invisible, outside the normal hierarchy and a nuisance in terms of managing the team, developing the program and filing the required monthly reports.
Toni Vaughn is more than an enigma though; she is a whole phycology thesis waiting to be written. Previously a strong, articulate, confident woman, successful in her work, life and a definite ‘player’, she has been literally destroyed by institutionalized abuse. She is a physical and emotional wreck whose tenuous hold on life is maintained by extreme agoraphobia brought on by nothing short of terror. Only her best friend and her teaching keep her just this side of sanity and suicide.
When Laura is forced to confront Toni and has no choice but to challenge her “safe” world it sets in motion a series of events that will change both of their lives.
It’s not often I put down a book and am speechless. The length, depth and emotional rollercoaster of this novel is way beyond the average LesFic story, and will, undoubtedly, stay in my mind for a very long time.
Lyn Gardner has created 2 amazing heroines. They have strength and depth, are multifaceted and layered and in book of more than 600 pages we have a remarkable opportunity to get to know them. Laura is the carer and giver. She has found an outlet for her skills and personality by teaching offenders and helping them discover a world outside of their experience. At first she is nothing but frustrated by the difficult and annoying recluse who teaches outside the normal program. But as soon as she hears Toni teach she is captivated. Despite everything that still drives her mad she is caught up in a campaign to reach out to the wounded woman.
Toni is a gifted teacher but outside of that single environment she is a nightmare for anyone to engage with. She barely tolerates the minimal care from her only friend Kris and has built walls so thick around her nobody else can even see the person inside. Her life experience is shocking and horrifying, something most will find hard to read let alone comprehend surviving. She is a master at being invisible, staying within her self-imposed but totally understandable safe spaces both physically and mentally. Struggling to survive on a minute-by-minute basis.
What we experience is a painful and yet exhilarating battle between them as Laura fights to break into Toni’s space, whittling away inch by painful inch to reach through the walls to the woman within. Meanwhile Toni struggles to hold on to her ‘safe’ isolation while inadvertently giving Laura more and more power in her life. Toni’s anger at Laura’s intrusion is the first emotion other than fear she has expressed in 2 years.
It is a magnificent exploration of both a victim, her extreme PTSD and the will power of two strong women, one to survive and maintain her safety, the other to reach out and help a person destroyed by her life. The relationship that grows between them is wonderful to watch. It will make you laugh with joy, swear in frustration and cry in anguish.
There are some very uncomfortable parts to this book. Reading about Toni’s abuse cannot help but make you cringe at the in-humanity in the world. But even more difficult for me personally was the description and internal monologue of one of her abusers, not something I would ever chose to read in any other genre. Some have commented that this whole section is unnecessary. But Ms Gardner had her reasons. It is horrible because we cannot have any glimmer of humanity in a man so evil, we shouldn’t enjoy reading a single word about such a monster, he can have no redeeming features. But by allowing Toni to face her worst fear the author also allows her to finally step out from under the crushing weight of her past. The confrontation is a catharsis that frees Toni from the fear. She isn’t healed, but she has survived.
This book has already been reviewed many times and it is difficult to find anything new to add to the praise. If you haven’t read it you are missing one of the best LesFic novels out there. It is well written, well paced, multi-layered, full of tension and virtually impossible to put down. Well done Lyn Gardner, you deserve the acclaim, this is one of those times when I wish there was a 6th star for special ratings.
(Publishers review copy received)