Wendy is lonely but coping. All nineteen-year-old Wendy wants is to drive the 255 bus around Uddingston with her regulars on board, remember to buy milk when it runs out and just to be okay. After her mum died, there’s nobody to remind her to eat and what to do each day. And Wendy is ready to step out of her comfort zone. Each week she shows her social worker the progress she’s made, like the coasters she bought to spruce up the place, even if she forgets to make tea. And she even joins a writers’ group to share the stories she writes, like the one about a bullied boy who goes to Mars.
But everything changes when Wendy meets Ginger.
A teenager with flaming orange hair, Ginger’s so brave she’s wearing a coat that isn’t even waterproof. For the first time, Wendy has a real best friend. But as they begin the summer of their lives, Wendy wonders if things were simpler before. And that’s before she realizes just how much trouble Ginger is about to get them in…
I’ve worked for 25 years in mental health and one thing I’ve learned is that there are almost always reasons people behave the way they do, but also that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ life. I love books that relate the extraordinary lives of ordinary people and Wendy certainly lives a simple life. She’s happy driving the 255 bus through Uddingston, reading books and having a good go at writing her own. Concerned that her social worker thinks she’s stagnating a little, since the death of her mother, Wendy makes a decision to reach out. She joins a writing group to build her confidence and starts to make friends with some of her passengers, but then Ginger comes along. Ginger is going to push Wendy completely out of her comfort zone.
This is a great novel that shows how mental health issues can creep up on young girls and when they’re as alone as Wendy is, there’s no one to notice things going wrong. Life is hard for her, because she feels like she doesn’t fit anywhere. She can see that society has rules, but she doesn’t understand them and her ignorance of the rules means she’s socially awkward. Instead of upsetting others, it sometimes seems easier to withdraw altogether. There is a sense in which Wendy’s being failed by the system, plus the double bereavement of losing her mum and dad has left her especially vulnerable. Being stepmum to two teenage girls I know only too well how problems can suddenly escalate and be made worse by social media. This is a gritty story and I knew very early on that something bad has happened to Wendy, so I did have a certain amount of suspicion most of the time. It felt to me like Wendy was heading down a dark road, but the addition of the rather wild Ginger seems to accelerate the downfall. I felt immediately protective of this girl, because it felt like she was out in the world with a layer of skin missing. I wanted to give her a big hug and have a heart to heart over a mug of tea. I found myself thinking about her long after the book finished, so bravo to the author for creating such an incredible character in her debut novel.