Posted in Personal Purchase

The Homes by J.B. Mylet

Lesley and Jonesy have been in foster care together ever since they can remember, in the same room and often in the same bed if Jonesy creeps in late at night. Our narrator is Lesley and she stands out as a little different from the other girls in the homes. She’s clever and goes to the grammar school instead of the one on site. She’s good at maths and seeing patterns in things, so what starts happening at the homes seems to her like a puzzle she can solve. Because someone at the homes is killing girls, possibly raping them and killing them. Who could it be?

The Homes are a sprawling institution made up of 30 cottages filled with the orphans of Glasgow and those needing care. So large, it has it’s own hospital, church and school, with every cottage run by a house mother and father with a Christian ethos. Set in the 1960’s and based on the Quarrier’s orphan village near the Bridge of Weir, where the author’s mother spent some of her childhood. He writes these girls as very isolated and dealt with at a distance, not just from their families, but from the staff too. He throws us in at the deep end with a morning that Lesley’s been dreading. Today she has to face the school bully Glenda, who lives a few cottages up. The adults know that Lesley is very likely to take a beating, but they do nothing. As she leaves for her school bus, Lesley can see a crowd of girls gathering at Glenda’s gate hoping for blood. It’s fair to say they get a bit of a surprise when the encounter doesn’t play out the way they expect. I felt as if the children were treated like animals, like when I’ve brought rescue cats home and left them to sort out their hierarchy amongst themselves. Even so, I would worry if any of them were distressed or fighting. These kids are fed, watered and disciplined, but they’re not cherished.

Only once called by her Christian name, Morag is known as Jonesey and she is a larger than life character. I loved the little characteristics that Lesley relates to us, such as the giggling in church, the constant chatter, and the way she often slips into Lesley’s bed at night but still isn’t restful. Even in her sleep Lesley is often woken by Jonesey’s jerking limbs, she’s like a puppy whose brain is asleep but whose body is still on the go. She’s absolutely irrepressible and incredibly loyal to Lesley, often waiting outside for her bus to arrive in the early evening, wriggling like that excited puppy again. By contrast, Lesley is outwardly very quiet. Her inner world is lively though, bright and full of questions. She has a dogged determination that helps her at school with tricky maths problems, but proves to be a nuisance to the police and the perpetrator of these terrible murders. Unfortunately, her amateur sleuthing is not quick enough to save the third victim. In between the case we learn a lot about the upheaval Lesley has suffered in life. She’s visited by her gran mostly, but she isn’t great at answering all the questions Lesley has. She’s clearly very fond of her granddaughter, but doesn’t want to get into the minutiae of why her mother placed her in care. Her mother visits less, but when the answers finally come there are painful truths to process. I was so glad she had Jonesey and her therapist Eadie but I worried for her going forwards and eventually leaving care. I bonded with Lesley, enjoying her intelligence and sense of fun as well as the way she coped with difficult situations.

A bit like Lesley I suspected every character along the way, knowing that people who work with children are not always doing it for the right reasons. There are people at the homes who are there for their own ends. There are various levels of abuse going on in the community. They’re forced into a religious upbringing they may not want and the expectations, particularly of girls, is tied up in that Christian morality. The discipline is down to each house parent and is always strict, but could also be violent and humiliating. At worst these children are preyed upon by the most horrific kinds of abuser and the tension builds towards a conclusion that not only unmasks a killer, but blows the lid open on everything that is wrong with the institution. I thought the historical setting was captured incredibly well, not so much the location but the emotional landscape of the 1960s. This was a time of secrets, when children were seen and not heard and definitely didn’t have rights. A time when young women were still shamed for their burgeoning sexuality and perfectly normal urges and their consequences. This was the time when my mother was growing up and it felt as if the author had the context just right. I thought the author perfectly balanced Lesley’s personal realisations and growth, with the tension of the murder investigation. As the inhabitants of Lesley’s cottage sit down for Sunday lunch with their houseparents, the Pattersons, she has a very grown up revelation. In the space of her week, this is the only time they feel ‘like a big normal family’ and it’s becoming apparent that all adults will eventually let her down. By the end I realised Lesley had drawn me into her story to such an extent I was wondering about her future. Despite the murders being solved, I was reluctant to close the book and leave her behind.

Published by Viper, 26th May 2022.

Meet the Author

J.B. Mylet was inspired to write The Homes based on the stories his mother told him about her childhood. She grew up in the infamous Quarrier’s Homes in Scotland in the 1960s, along with a thousand other orphaned or unwanted children, and did not realise that children were supposed to live with their parents until she was seven. He felt this was a story that needed to be told. He lives in London.

You can follow James on Twitter @JamesMylet, or find him on Facebook.

Author:

Hello, I am Hayley and I run Lotus Writing Therapy and The Lotus Readers blog. I am a counsellor, workshop facilitator and avid reader.

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