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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Manuela Salvi
Age Range: 14+
Sixteen-year old Aleksandra’s life is in a state of flux. She is trying to adapt to life sharing a home with her estranged mother, stepfather and young half-brother following the recent death of her grandmother with whom she had previously lived. Plus her beloved theatre group, The Ship of Fools, is threatened with closure. Drama has been her sanctuary, enabling her to speak confidently and escape from the irritating stutter which plagues her when she is anxious in her everyday life.
Then she meets the uber-confident and mature Megan, refreshingly different from her theatre colleagues, and who gradually introduces her to a new social circle, including the handsome Ruben. Aleksandra is flattered as she is plied with gifts, attention and glimpses into an exciting new world. However, it is also an extremely dangerous one, exposing her to ‘privately’ arranged parties where she is introduced to alcohol, drugs and prostitution. Before long, Aleksandra is completely out of her depth.
Girl Detached by Italian author Manuela Salvi was originally banned, due to its strong content, and withdrawn from sale in its native Italy. This hard-hitting novel focuses on the uncomfortable and often disturbing subject of teenage grooming, an extremely important story, powerfully told and expertly translated by Denise Muir. It is deeply compelling, often unsettling and with convincing characterisation. The way in which the protagonist is prepared, and slowly, methodically and skilfully drawn into the seedy domain of Ruben and his friends is both shocking but also immensely believable.
Salvi is brave and uncompromising with her story; unafraid to tackle the unpalatable realities of Ruben’s underground network. She does a brilliant job of showing the gradual progression of Alek’s introduction into its murky underbelly, displaying her heart-breaking naivety and the insecurities that allow her to be oblivious to the danger she faces.
At the same time there is the parallel story of Alek’s life in her new home and her work at the theatre where she takes on a lead role as the feisty Lady Hester in Oscar Wilde’s play ‘A Woman of No Importance’: a play about double standards between men and women, the irony of which is not lost, as Salvi gives Alek one of the strongest characters of the play, whose outspoken opinions about these double standards is somehow at odds with Alek’s own awakening to what is happening to her as well as the reaction to her when she finally finds the courage to tell the truth about her secret life.
The descriptions of the haze of alcohol and drug fuelled parties is frightening realistic and at times painful reading, while the well-defined characters – from the charming, slightly sinister Ruben, hard-edged Megan, desperate to please her abusive boyfriend, and Alek’s new-found theatre friends Jonah and Helena, who both have their own issues to deal with, but who are nevertheless there when it matters – create a gritty disturbing message that lingers long after you have put the book down.
The chapters focussing on the theatre group bring a little light relief with some genuine wit. There is also an element of hope too, as Alek realises that she has supportive family and friends who are there when she needs them most.
As one reviewer remarked `when stories like this are truly happening in our world, why should we censor them?’ A book that needs to be read by adults as well as teenagers, Girl Detached is a timely novel and Salvi provides a powerful new voice in Young Adult fiction.