Here at Inglorious we’re pleased to be part of the Retro Review Tour for Suki Fleet’s This is Not A Love Story, one of the most beautiful and tender love stories we’ve read in a very long time.
When fifteen-year-old Romeo’s mother leaves one day and doesn’t return, he finds himself homeless and trying to survive on the streets. Mute and terrified, his silence makes him vulnerable, and one night he is beaten by a gang of other kids, only to be rescued by a boy who pledges to take care of him.
Julian is barely two years older than Romeo. A runaway from an abusive home, he has had to make some difficult choices and sells himself on the street to survive. Taking care of Romeo changes him, gives him a purpose in life, gives him hope, and he tries to be strong and keep his troubles with drugs behind him. But living as they do is slowly destroying him, and he begins to doubt he can be strong enough.
This is the story of their struggle to find a way off the streets and stay together at all costs. But when events threaten to tear them apart, it is Romeo who must find the strength within himself to help Julian (and not let their love story turn into a Shakespearean tragedy)
Our thoughts :
Karen: I’ve had this book in my reader for almost a year, and I admit I was really nervous about reading it, because I’d heard that it was very emotional and angsty. But I have loved everything else I’ve read by Suki Fleet
Fra: Delicate and strong at the same time, written with resounding empathy and quietly brimming with hope in very dire, dark situations – This Is Not a Love Story is one of my favourite novels of all times. It is, also, one of those novels which I put on my son’s shelves to read when he is ready: this book not only is exquisitely written but it also makes you want to be a better person, it gently pushes you to take notice of the urban world around you and urges you to get more and more involved in social justice all while shining the brightest of lights on the type of love that gives strength and hope to overcome the most jagged of obstacles.
Suki Fleet brings out our more introspective nature, so we asked each other questions about TINALS. Remee is also Romeo’s name, so we use both at times .
Fra Q: Karen I know you were cautious about reading this book now that you have met Romeo and Julian what did you think of your reading experience?
Karen A : I’m actually glad that I read Suki Fleet’s books out of their writing order- I started with some shorts, then Light up the Dark, then Foxes – some more shorts and finally This Is Not A Love Story, as I was aware of the emotional punch that I was going to get. When I use angst in books, I mean the artificial set up kind. You know what I mean, the MC’s despite being able to articulate on page how they feel, and what is happening jump to the wrong conclusion because of over hearing a partial conversation/ seeing something out of context and then running away. Forcing out lovers to Face Up To Things usually that they should have a conversation ! So reading about these boys who struggled so hard to make their place in the world better for each other and faced big issues was a breath of fresh air.
That’s not to say I found this an easy read, but a good , satisfying, hopeful and emotional one – yes !
Fra Q: I find that one of the recurring themes in Fleet’s novels is the idea of safe spaces: in Foxes it was Danny’s empty pool and in Light Up the Dark the library – In This Is Not A Love Story is even something as small as the tarpaulin Remee/ Romeo and Julian use to escape the rain. Did you get the same feeling about space and feeling safe?
Karen A: I got a lot less sense of safety in This Is Not A Love Story in the places that the boys occupied, understandably so really, what I did get was the safety of people, especially with Romeo. At times you forget how young, really young these boys are which I think allowed SF to explore how being outside society and it’s rules can start to damage people, but kept them optimistic and open (mainly) to others.
Fra Q: Suki’s writing also conveys how dramatically the weather affects the lives of these boys: the rain and the cold are relentless, I feel that the constant grey atmosphere adds to the idea that the boys and the homeless are invisible and occupy a parallel plane – You live and work in London, did you get the same feeling of two layered London: parallel, untouching, invisible to each other?
Karen A: I had read a couple of books on homelessness and people who live outside of society coincidentally before starting the book, and I was struck by how much we don’t see, or how you normalise what you do see. Most of us will never experience what the characters do, so I think that when SF uses the weather, and the grey surroundings of social housing projects it really amplifies everything. It very much reminds me of how a visual artist can create a mood with colour.
Fra Q: There is no doubt that this novel is anguishing and heart breaking. The two main characters and the people around them are so very young and yet I find that the narrative conveys a soul warming sense of hope. Hope born of the kindness of ordinary people – where even the smallest act of concern creates ripples that eventually foster positive change. How do you feel about Suki’s writing in relation to stripping down human need to its most basic form? I mean the characters need to be safe and comforted and warm and fed: there is not even space in their lives for wanting anything remotely superfluous.
Karen A: My answer to this, is kind of combined with my answer to your second question, the reason This Is Not A Love Story works so well is because of the youth of the MC’s for me. Despite some of the terrible things that have happened to them, they still retain hope and a certain innocence , especially Romeo. The more people are open and help, the more open he becomes, and his hope starts to affect Julian.
What I appreciate about Suki’s writing is how pared down it it, and yet so intensely emotional and how she gets into the heads of her characters.
Karen Q:Leading on from your question above Fra – I find the balancing in Suki Fleet’s books to be one of their best qualities, did you find the balance here worked for you ? Especially between the reality as documented by the press/ TV of life on the streets and the version that SF portrays
Fra A: I think you are right, Suki Fleet’s writing maintains the most delicate of balances amongst all of the themes it explores. I think most and foremost with the light/dark balancing act Suki conveys the possibility of heartbreaking beauty in the darkest of circumstances. It is, in my opinion, one of Fleet’s greatest talents: this ability to convey the brightest of lights in a single act of kindness, a tiny, random touch, a smuggled cup of tea, a kiss between young lovers.
Her themes remain dark: the lives of Romeo and Julian and Cricket and Pasha on the streets are portrayed delicately but in a manner that never skirts the devastating reality of it.
I believe that “reports” on homelessness are in the most geared to offering the public a vision of it that can be related to our own experience. The problem with this approach is that yes, for sure, many of us feel a need to help and do something about it – charity work, donations – and yet it fails, in my experience at least, to convey the actual lives of the people. Suki Fleet does the opposite they do not spend any time on denouncing homelessness rather they show us in no unflinching terms what the actual lives of these young people on the streets are like. We don’t get to see their lives from the comfort of our own homes, we are transported and immersed completely in theirs. And that to me is the sign of the strongest of writers.
Karen Q: As always in Suki Fleet’s books the supporting characters play critical roles, and the kindness of ordinary people is another one of their recurring themes (and in truth with many writers) there were some pivotal moments in this – which were yours ?
Fra A: Oh yes! The secondary characters add so much weight to the story!
Thinking about pivotal moments and roles within the secondary characters I can think of some which are critical to the story development. Every act of kindness from Cassey, every cup of tea and every piece of food I think opens Remee and Julian to the possibility of kindness in the world and – as you said – to each other.
Cricket’s betrayal precipitates the dramatic development of the story and takes Julian from Remee thus allowing for Remee to become aware of the other possibilities in his path.
Crash’s refusal of stopping to being friendly and supportive of Romeo and his insistence that he gives his foster family a go makes Romeo aware of his own desire for something different and recognising the need to accept help as a way to move forward. I found this to be true of Kay’s character as well. She is so non judgemental and incredibly open to offer support in whichever way both Romeo and Crash and also Julian, may need it.
In summary I think every secondary character helps Romeo and Julian in their forward journey. However I think it is more a gentle nudge, a showing of possibilities and I love the way Suki writes stories in which the protagonists first and foremost want to save themselves, and by acknowledging this internal need they are then also able to save each other.
Karen Q: Romeo is very young, actually below the age of consent I think when the book starts. But TINALS deals with issues that are very adult as well, how did this affect, or did it, your view of Romeo and Julian’s romantic/ sexual relationship ?
Fra A: Actually no, Romeo’s age – and Julian’s who is also incredibly young – had no effect on my view of their relationship. The book tackles issues so fundamentally harrowing that I found the very fact the two boys find love in each other the very essence of what love and hope is about. At 15 and 17 respectively these two have experienced abandonment, homelessness, hunger, addiction not to mention prostitution. They are both very young and the fact they have this strong, unfaltering love for each other is what ultimately coaxes hope out of this story and brings light to the darkness.
Another highly recommend novel from us, with such a gorgeous cover.
You can buy this wonderful book at Amazon, Harmony Ink
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The companion book Wild Summer shows more of Romeo and Julian’s new life, and also has more Crash