Dark, Tense and Passionate: A review of The Rebirth of Henry Whittle by Gertrude T. Kitty

Phoenix Whittle is an orphan on the brink of adulthood. Mercilessly bullied at school, and belonging nowhere, she is trapped in a half miserable life, her only happiness coming from her two friends.  But news of a long lost uncle who wants her to live with him, gives her new hope. She dares to believe she will now have a true home, somewhere she is wanted and nurtured, somewhere she is safe. Yet when she meets her Uncle Henry she is left cold, for he seems, at best, uninterested and, at worst, actively hateful. Phoenix is now locked in a battle of wills with an uncle that clearly doesn’t care for her. With a nightmarish home life and a hellish school life, Phoenix struggles to keep it together. Her stress is multiplied when a serial killer appears to be targeting people all known to Phoenix – all known to her as her assailants.

The Rebirth of Henry Whittle is Gertrude T. Kitty’s utterly thrilling second book. From the first page, I knew I was in for a treat. The book speeds along in Kitty’s capable hands, and the reader is swept away and very quickly consumed in a dark story of fear and murder. The darkness, though, is lifted by the vibrant young characters, particularly Phoenix and her friend Luke. The conversations between the two friends provide some laugh out loud moments, and the depiction of the fun side of adolescence is captured perfectly: it’s not all doom and gloom for Phoenix.The narrative conveys a freshness so characteristic of Kitty’s work. Consistently told in the first person and present tense, it’s modern and current with references to contemporary culture. It’s the here and now, and this adds to the pacy rhythm of the book. Phoenix is a feisty girl with bags of resilience, a great sense of justice and always drawn to helping others. Her kindness and determined nature and ultimately positive spirit, spurs her on to fight for the life she deserves. And this makes her such a great protagonist and young heroine for all those YA readers out there.

The novel also focuses on Phoenix’s sexual awakening. As it is aimed at the YA readership, prepare to be titillated! I think back to Forever by Judy Blume – borrowed from the library and kept hidden in my bedside cabinet so my mum wouldn’t discover that I was reading a ‘naughty’ book! The novel encourages us to be in allegiance with Phoenix all the way and it feels like we are one of her best friends, privy to her inner thoughts and internal conversations, and always wanting the best for her. The themes of the book could be quite sensitive to some readers, so it carries a trigger warning of physical abuse especially, and is recommended for the older YA reader.

Kitty always makes use of the multi perspective narrative, and she does it in a unique way. I found this with her debut novel, Random Attachment. It struck me as very distinctive, and I was glad to find the same structure in Henry Whittle. Some of the characters’ narratives are very short, so there may be pages with as many as four points of view. This notably quickens the pace of the novel while also adding to the tension. And it works brilliantly.

The book’s geographical setting needs a special mention, as the London boroughs of Hillingdon and Harrow take me joyously back a few years to some of my old haunts. It’s thrilling reading about places you’ve lived in or been to in a novel, and Kitty always gets this spot on with me. I love books that make me conjure up vivid pictures in my mind and The Rebirth of Henry Whittle did this so well. I was able to picture places and scenes clearly, and even though I hadn’t been to all the locations, knowing of the areas referred to was a great advantage for my mind’s eye. I absolutely love it when this happens while reading a book!  As I have seen some other reviewers mention, the story would be superb as a film or TV series. It is begging to be adapted for the screen – it’s fresh, it’s British, it’s dark, it’s edgy, and it’s sexy. Who wouldn’t watch that?

If you are looking for a one or two sittings contemporary, quick paced, exciting and passionate thriller, The Rebirth of Henry Whittle will satisfy all your reading needs. A fabulous novel.

Watching You from a Distance: A review of Random Attachment by Gertrude T. Kitty

Mia Dent is an ordinary girl, living a very lonely life in an inner city tower block housing estate where menace and violence is part of the everyday. She is very well adjusted considering she has a spiteful, unloving mother, and faces aggression and assault on a daily basis. She is living in an understated hell – a place where millions of Britons live – a neglected, ignored, inescapable hole of the unrepresented underclass. But Mia is a resilient and resourceful teen, and her undefeated spirit spurs her on to strengthen herself both mentally and physically. She aims to study hard and get a good education, while making her body ready for defence against the threat of daily attack. She is working on her confidence by building up her brain and her body. Mia is a wonderful character, and she makes rooting for her easy, even when she is misguidedly and embarrassingly stalking a man she spots on the tube one day.

This is Mia’s achilles heel. She is so busy obsessing over someone she has never met, that she has no inkling she’s being stalked herself and is the target of a serial rapist and killer. 

Random Attachment by Gertrude T. Kitty is a terrific book. I enjoyed reading it immensely. It is reminiscent of a gritty British police drama, and I could imagine it being a two or three part TV adaptation. The dialogue is superb and very up to the minute, although I found myself questioning the realism of Mia’s monologues to the detectives on a few occasions – yet this does serve to move the narrative along effectively – and belief can be suspended. I loved the references to parts of London, and, if you are somewhat familiar with the city, it greatly adds to the enjoyment of the book – in fact it’s quite a delight in this respect. It’s gripping and keeps you hooked and guessing. I was suspicious of all the characters at certain points, and I appreciated the way in which the narrative led me to do this. It’s a very modern and current piece of writing, portraying the here and now truthfully  and brilliantly.

Random Attachment is currently under the YA genre, however, as a humble reader, I would re-categorise it. Although I have little literary knowledge and no publishing knowledge, I would consider the crime fiction category to be more befitting. This fabulous read deserves to be nurtured by a recognised publisher and repackaged to reflect its magnificence. 

Essentially, I found Random Attachment to be a love story too. The author weaves romance into the story well, and, as a result,  I found myself harking back to those fresh, romantic days of my youth. Mia is easy to fall in love with as a reader: she is tremendously recognisable (for me, anyway!), and lacks any of the unpleasantness so often associated with fictional teens. She is a wonderful underdog, and is, undoubtedly, one of the excellent reasons to read Random Attachment. My love for RA is simple: it is a hugely entertaining book with a superb protagonist.