Book review: The Truth about Celia Frost by Paula Rawsthorne

Mother Nature has not been kind to 14-year-old Celia Frost...

By Pam Norfolk
Tuesday, 30th August 2011, 7:00 am

She has a long, gangly body, no curves, a stoop, a mass of untameable red hair ... and a rare illness that means she could bleed to death from the slightest cut.

Her fellow pupils treat her either as a ‘charity case’ to be pitied or as a ‘freak’ who should be in a special school.

Trapped in a gloomy bubble of fear and confined for endless hours to her home, life couldn’t get any worse ...or could it?

Paula Rawsthorne’s stunning debut novel for young adults is a journey into danger, deceit and hidden secrets with the added bonus of more twists and turns than a game of snakes and ladders.

Billed as a thriller, The Truth about Celia Frost offers so much more than just a regulation adventure. Imaginative, socially aware and thought-provoking, the clever story is guaranteed to get the grey matter moving.

Celia’s mother Janice is paranoid about her daughter’s rare disorder and the two of them have been constantly on the move for years.

After a succession of schools, Celia is currently in Wales where class bully Max Jenkins is proving to be more vicious and toxic than anyone she has so far encountered.

Celia is his ‘special project’ but when his taunts finally make her crack and she makes a fool of him in front of the class, there’s a terrible price to pay.

Jenkins corners her after school and in a tussle, disaster strikes when he slashes her arm with a penknife.

But far from her life ebbing away, the bleeding miraculously stops and Celia needs only a few stitches at A&E.

Before tests can be carried out, her frantic mother appears and drags her not only from the hospital but away from their home to yet another new life on a sink estate in London.

Alone and friendless, Celia starts to wonder what is really going on ... what she doesn’t know is that there are dark and mysterious people out there who have been searching for her since she was born.

And they are getting dangerously close to their quarry...

Rawsthorne’s thriller works well on several different levels – as a gripping page turner, as a meditation on medical ethics and as a touching story about the growing pains of an ordinary, and yet extraordinary, teenager.

It is also a timely window onto the prevalence of violent gang culture, the social evils of bullying and intimidation and the eternal optimism of youth.

An impressive debut from a writer not afraid to confront controversial issues.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)