Outside: darkly fascinating

Outside by Sarah Ann Juckes is breathtakingly deep, heartbreaking and incredibly insightful. This darkly fascinating novel considers upbringing and how it effects children, as well as the relationship between parents and children. The elements of this book where learning and language are considered are truly thought-provoking, as it causes the reader to question what they could learn if they were never taught anything. A cross between Room by Emma¬†Donoghue and My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent, this is an outstanding YA novel. Outside by Sarah Ann Juckes was published yesterday by Penguin Random House Children’s.

Trigger warning: child abuse, captivity

The story
Without spoiling the novel, Outside begins with Ele’s story, as she is living trapped in a ‘tower’ with what she calls ‘Others’, being visited by ‘Him’ once a week and fed cattle feed through a trough every day. ‘He’ is a disgusting dominant male figure who takes advantage, while Ele gets through it by talking to the ‘Others’ and playing with them. When she manages to break free one day, she runs and finds a boy who offers to take care of her. From here on out, Ele will discover exactly what she is capable of and learn to be an ‘Outside person’ who can face her fears and the disturbing truth.

Why this is a stunning book
Outside by Sarah Ann Juckes is incredible because it analyses the psyche of a captive child without making Ele too primitive. Juckes does not condescend her lead character, giving her animalistic traits compliant with her being locked up for years of her life, while allowing her to have human characteristics, including imagination and intuition. I love that the Inside and Outside parts of the story were woven effectively so that it was not as though she completely forgot where she came from after leaving.

The characters in this novel are so well-written and thought-through; Ele is clever and caring, whilst being wary of the people that she meets. Willow is a kind, damaged soul who would help Ele come what may and Ezra is a man who is willing to change and wants to be a great dad, but struggles with his own loss. ‘He’ is despicable, and the ending of this book is greatly satisfying while also rather harrowing. I very much enjoyed the character interactions which showed their true natures, especially things such as Ezra’s old house and the willow tree. Elements such as this make this book incredible, as it makes you question what you think you know about each of the character archetypes.

Overall, Juckes has done an incredible job of taking dark themes of captivity, child abuse and the lasting effects of these and putting them into a book appropriate for teenagers and young adults. I give Outside 5*, and would recommend Outside to anybody who enjoyed Room, as the childlike language and understanding of the things around the captive child are similar, but also to people who are looking for a darker novel which has strong themes of friendship and family dynamics. Thank you to PRH Children’s and NetGalley for my e-arc of Outside by Sarah Ann Juckes in exchange for an honest review. Outside is out now.

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