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Fifteen year old Melon Fouraki hates her name. Teased at school by her peers, she blames her mother for inflicting her with the perfect device for social persecution. It doesn’t matter to Melon that her name is part of The Story, the family fairy tale that brought her mother Maria to London from Crete when she was Melon’s age and pregnant with her. But when Maria is killed in an accident, Melon must unravel fact from fiction and rediscover her roots, plagued by the superstitions and traditions of a family she barely knew. But how can you begin to do that when all you feel is numb?
This novel from Julie Mayhew explores anger, grief, coming of age, and identity in an astute emotional tale. Darkly funny, with a barbed tongue and simmering with anger, Melon’s path to self-discovery is tangled and filled with internal and external conflict. Thrown from one person to the next in an attempt to find somebody to listen, Melon’s story is deeply personal. It is difficult to find someone to talk to who can grasp the feelings that Melon herself doesn’t fully understand. And furthermore she isn’t sure if she even wants to speak to anyone at all, when the one person who can answer all her questions is gone forever.
Never does the story feel overwrought, and the non-linear narrative jumps around like a troubled conscious, giving the journey even more psychological weight. Filled with fully realised characters all struggling with their own problems, Melon’s loneliness becomes all the more apparent. Her best friend, Chick, disowns her to avoid the messy emotions of grief and guilt, and social worker/Maria’s boyfriend Paul takes on the mantle of surrogate father despite his own grief and Melon’s reluctance. And Aunt Aphrodite is a formidable presence representing all that was left behind in the face of family strife.
Set against the backdrop of Crete, Red Ink does a fantastic job of conjuring the dusty heat and dilapidated countryside melon farm and contrasting it to the underbelly of London. Filled with teenage slang and lilted accents, Mayhew shows how the displacement of dual nationality can further compound the confusion of growing up. Most of all, we follow the journey of Melon as she learns to love despite imperfections, and find forgiveness.
Dark secrets are revealed that shake everything Melon believed to the core.
Red Ink is a brilliant book, piecing together a tale in a pacey and engaging plot. Through the ideas of writing and storytelling, you grow to sympathise with Melon and understand her fraught emotions, and Maria’s history shifts and slips into place in a thrilling conclusion. Mayhew is unafraid to tackle the hard issues of rebellion, naivety and denial.
Once I started reading I couldn’t put it down.