Mona Ashleigh Book Review3 min read

 “”Of course not,” she said. “Don’t you know by now that you’re my best friend?” That shut me up all right. Yeah I knew it. I mean, I knew I was the friend with whom she spent the most time; it wasn’t even close. To hear her say that was music to my ears, but, for pride or some other stupid reason, when she said it I tried to maintain a facial expression that didn’t convey how I felt about the joyful tune I was hearing.

Author: Richard Levine                         Published: 2018                               Pages: 197

Set in 1963, Mona Ashleigh surrounds a group of friends who call themselves the “Defectives” and are quite happy to exist quietly in their all too unscrupulous high school. Being 14 years old, Bugboy is just discovering his identity and how he fits into the world. He is happy with who his friends are, and takes every day as it comes. Enter Ashleigh. A beautiful girl who catches his attention, and when one day she decides to sit at their table, despite her seemingly perfect exterior, Bugboy begins to understand that not all flaws and struggles are visible. Journeying with them through the perils of being 14 year olds, the group must learn together how to grow up and face issues even adults would struggle to deal with.

What I liked most about this book was the author’s emphasis on not all problems being physical. While Bugboy had an issue with his hips, Veronica had a birthmark covering one side of her face, and Stuts had a stutter, when Ashleigh entered their lives, she became a living representation of how hidden some people’s struggles can be. Most of the characters were shaped well by the author, and they all had intriguing lives and backstories. 

The book wasn’t the best written piece of fiction I’ve ever read, but throughout, the dialogue was plausible, and overall the profound message in the novel distracted me from the occasional poorly written paragraph. While having underlying themes of mental health, Levine also touches on issues of abuse and the perils of high school life. Everything was written with sensitivity and respect, and although I didn’t love the main character, in hindsight, it was probably because he’s 14, and actually the author wrote him as a very plausible young boy.

The book was actually very different to what I was expecting based on the first few pages. I was expecting an annoying protagonist and not much plot, but actually, his use of the novel to talk about mental health was both refreshing and touching. As most of the characters are about 14-years old, I loved Levine’s courage in using them to highlight something which often gets ignored: their mental health. Bugboy’s voice as the main character was naive and uncertain, but once you remember this is because he’s 14, it becomes surprisingly clever. These children are discovering the impact poor mental health can have on them and those around them, and actually their age made their understanding a lot easier. They simplified it to the point that actually a lot of adults could learn from their outlook. In a similar way to The Shock of the Fall, often a young narrative can have an eye opening impact on the reader. 

All in all, while it wasn’t my favourite book, I really respect and appreciate what Levine was trying to do with the novel. Bugboy’s voice was refreshing and hard-hitting, while also reminding us that there’s a certain attractive innocence in being young and your main worries being about Brazil nut eyed girls, and who’s going to win the next Series. 

Thank you to the author, Richard Levine, for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

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