Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Once Removed - K. B. Walker

'Like unlocking the valve of a pressure cooker, opening her skin released the dementing force.'

Abby (Abriella) Garside is a newly qualified secondary school teacher in a small town in Yorkshire. Beth is a pupil at the school. Abby notices Beth involved in an incident with a craft knife. She resolves to keep an eye on Beth and tries to help integrate her more in her lessons. Beth comes to trust Abby.

Abby has a difficult relationship with her family throughout her life. Thinking back to when she was just a girl, she admits to a deep loneliness, to feeling pushed aside; 'I knew even then I didn't fit in my family, didn't really belong.' The feeling of feeling as if she doesn't quite fit in is one which lingers in her mind; 'Once at a distant relative's wedding, I'd been introduced to a cousin once removed. The phrase intrigued me and seemed to describe my position in our family.' She has a relationship with a man called Jeff, but as we learn more about them, it appears she is settling for him rather than it being a healthy relationship. Beth similarly suffers from a sense of isolation, feeling a 'screaming loneliness'. She cuts herself, and describes how she feels afterwards, as 'A satisfying pain pierced through the noise in my brain, giving voice to my silent cry.'

The first person narratives from both of the main two characters run alongside each other and give us an intimate depiction of the daily lives and struggles of them both as two separate individuals, and also as two people whose paths come together. Short passages in italics at the start of some chapters hint at one person's secret history and draw us further into the narrative. The characters are well drawn, from Abby and Beth, Aunt Frieda and Ryan, down to the minor characters like Mrs Billington. Abby has mannerisms which she repeats and this added to the realism of the character for me. There is real growth and development in plot and characters.

There is an intelligent exploration here of the notion of someone who feels like they don't quite fit, like they are different, and struggling both to be accepted by others, and to accept themselves as they are. I felt the pain being endured by both Abby and Beth really came across in the writing. Abby feels inadequate and out of place at times, lacking in confidence.

The book deals well with how people have little confidence, sometimes because of past hurt, and the strength that can need to be found to continue, to believe in oneself and realise that you are deserving of kindness and love, from others, but most importantly from yourself. It was wonderful to read a story dealing with this. The book also follows through and looks at what happens when someone tries to help and it is misconstrued, resulting in rumour, speculation, incorrect judgments formed without knowledge of the truth, and retribution.

The story kept me thinking whilst reading and each time I put the novel aside I was thinking about the characters.  The author shows insight into what is going on here, within destructive or cruel family relationships. The plot developed in a satisfying way. I empathised with Abby and was angered by how members of her family behaved towards her. It is a believable portrayal of sadness and hurt and although there are distressing moments and there is unhappiness, there is also friendship, joy and hope.

I found this a very moving, emotional book, and I felt that the sensitive and challenging subject matter, including self-harm, was carefully handled by this author. Empathy is created, the friendship between teacher and pupil is believable and it is carefully and beautifully portrayed. 

I would recommend this book and I will be looking out for future work by this author.

Published by Crooked Cat Publishing

You can follow the author on twitter @kbwalkerwrites and visit her blog here.

Thanks to the publisher for kindly sending a copy of this ebook to read and give an honest review.


  1. This sounds really interesting! Great review Lindsay :-)

    1. Thanks Helen! It's a compelling story.

  2. Another great review Lins. Once Removed reminds me of Saving Daisy by Phil Earle which also explores family relationships, self-harming and the relationship between keyworker and character - although written for the YA audience.

    So many great books out there ...

    1. Thanks Shaz. I've added that to my list to look out for, sounds very good, think I remember reading your review. Cheers for the recommendation.


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