Run, rebel by Manjeet Mann

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Penguin, 2020. ISBN: 9780241411421.
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. Written in short verses on each page, this novel thrums with the beat of spoken poetry that captures the intense feelings of a young girl, Amber, who loves to run, but whose dreams of being an athlete look like they will never be realised. She is bound by the built in fears of family and community - fear of a father who is most often drunk and violent, and fear of the punishment meted to those who offend the family honour, like the girl who died at the hands of her father just across the street. It's an oppression carried through generations. Amber's parents are illiterate, her mother was beaten and taught submission, Amber's sister Ruby was married off young, and Amber knows that she also has to obey.
Mann's choice of verse form gives her the ability to go straight to the heart of the matter, to express intense feelings with minimal words. We live Amber's thoughts and fears. We feel the fear build up, the anxiety about being seen in the street with a boy after school, the violence that erupts when her father comes home drunk and angry. And we also see how her own anger turns her into a bully at school.
Amber actually asks herself the question of whether she is the same as her father - angry and violent. It is a question also explored in Rafi Mittlefehldt's What makes us (2019) - do genetic inheritance and environment combine to make children inevitably repeat the patterns of their parents? For Amber, as with Eran, in Mittlefehldt's novel, it is a teacher who makes the difference, as well as the loyalty of good friends. Amber has a teacher who encourages her athletic aspirations, and a history teacher who with his enthusiasm opens her eyes to ways to make change. The principles of revolution become the phases that she goes through toward self-assertion and independence.
The way this book is written, with its headings, succinct verses and highlighted words makes it very accessible to the generation who enjoys slam/rap poetry and the short burst interaction of social media. It is very powerful, raw and honest, and no doubt its immediacy and the themes it illuminates will resonate with young adult readers.
Themes: Domestic violence, Cultural expectations, Identity, Bullying, Anger.
Helen Eddy