A Flash of Blue


As YA Shot took place yesterday, I thought I’d look at a novel by a UKYA author to celebrate. A Flash of Blue was written by Maria Farrer and first published in 2015. It’s a stand-alone contemporary fiction story, focusing on a teenage girl who’s struggling to come to terms with her brother’s death.

Amber Neville made a huge mistake. Angry at her older brother, Liam, she stole his lucky stone. She kept it safe, planning on returning it to him later, but never got the chance. Unbeknown to anyone, Liam suffered from an undiagnosed heart condition and suffered a fatal heart attack later that day. Amber was left shattered by this. She’s certain that if only her brother had left the house with his charm, he would have survived. His death is entirely her fault.

Over the year that followed, Amber’s family completely broke down. Her mother turned to drink and her father began to have a very unsubtle affair, spending more and more time away from the house. Amber is left feeling as though she can do nothing right. She is nowhere near as smart or athletic as Liam and everything she does seems to cause her family embarrassment. On the anniversary of Liam’s death, her grandmother convinces her to go out and enjoy herself at a friend’s party. It’s here that she meets Tyler.

Tyler used to be Liam’s best friend, and misses him as much as she does. The two bond over their shared memories of him and Amber starts to see more and more of Tyler. Yet her father warns her that Tyler is a bad person and Amber soon starts to see the truth in this. When she starts to hang out with Tyler’s friends, she realises that they are all particularly rough. Soon, she finds herself in big trouble, but how can she put her life back on track when everything around her is starting to come falling down?

As you’re probably aware, I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction and so I found this story a bit difficult to review. I will also take this moment to warn sensitive readers that this novel contains a couple of potential triggers, including death of a youth, alcohol abuse and threat of rape. Please bear these things in mind before reading this review.

The premise of the novel wasn’t hugely original as it focused on a family coping with the sudden death of a teenager. What was interesting about it was just how bleak this portrayal was. As Amber succinctly puts it, “sometimes tragedy brings out the best in people and sometimes the worst”. In the case of this novel, it’s definitely the latter. There is not a single member of the family that finds a healthy way to come to terms with Liam’s death. Her mother becomes an alcoholic, her dad has an affair, and even her grandmother just seems to want to pretend that nothing’s wrong. Although the novel is only short, I found it hard to get through because of the depressing subject matter.

Despite the story’s clear focus, something about it just felt lacking. It’s hard to put my finger on it exactly but there was something missing from in the characterisation. I hated the sheer level of victim blaming within this story. Everyone blames everything on Amber. From her father who explodes whenever Amber fails to win a race, to her boss at work who blames her when another employee quits (because he can’t work with Amber due to his unrequited love for her). While I wanted to put Amber’s sense of culpability down to an overactive guilt complex, this isn’t the case at all. Everyone in this story – family, friends and social services – seem to be gunning for her at all times, even concerning events that are beyond her control. This left a bad taste in my mouth.

Then there was “the incident”. As I mentioned before, there isn’t actually a rape depicted in the story but there is certainly the threat of one. The middle section of the novel is almost painful to read, purely because of the inclusion of Tyler’s horrible friends. Declan is all kinds of awful yet, ultimately, Tyler is the most deplorable in my mind. I won’t spoil exactly what he does here but his motivations within the story are truly despicable. He knew exactly what Declan was, yet allowed him to get away with it.

This ties into my biggest issue with the book. There isn’t ever any sense of catharsis for the horrible, horrible characters. The climax of the novel is far too quick and clean over the last thirty pages of book. Let’s note that the characters in this story have been making Amber’s life miserable for the better part of the year. After her presentation to the sports club, everyone changes their attitudes in a heartbeat. The fates of some of the characters are summed up in a single sentence, many of whom Amber never sees face to face again. It felt as though the novel had been suddenly cut short. Tyler, for his part, got away scot-free and even Amber’s father’s adultery is just brushed away with a comment. I was left feeling unsatisfied, as it gave the book an incomplete feel.

Yet A Flash of Blue did carry a strong and important message concerning organ donation. While I wish that this had been more of a running theme, as it was shoe-horned in during the final act, I do believe that this is an important thing for teenagers to consider. Nobody likes to think about dying, especially when they’re young, yet terrible things can happen without warning. Many young readers may have never considered that they can save lives by filling out a simple online form, yet this book clearly shows why they should do this and the impact it can have on a critically ill person’s life. The story concludes with a helpful link to the NHS website (www.organdonations.nhs.uk), so readers can find out more about it.

Despite my gripes with the story, I also did like Amber. She made some terrible decisions over the course of the novel but she still felt wholly realistic. While the rest of the characters were lacking in depth, Amber fortunately felt fully realised and, it was easy to feel sorry for her as she quickly found herself in over her head. Her character arc was incredibly satisfying and I loved how she managed to learn from her horrible experiences, and that she managed to find a way to help her family by helping others.

While I didn’t hate this novel, I did find it to be a very average on the whole. While I liked the protagonist and its overall message, the story lacked substance and felt very flimsy in places. There are better YA novels out there with this premise but fans of contemporary literature may still get a kick out of it.

A Flash of Blue can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook from Amazon.co.uk

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