Today I’m delighted to be sharing my review of an ARC of this debut novel by my friend and very funny fellow-author Fran Hill, ‘Cuckoo in the Nest’, to be published by Legend Press on 26 April 2023.
It’s the heatwave summer of 1976 and 14-year-old would-be poet Jackie Chadwick is newly fostered by the Walls. She desperately needs stability, but their insecure, jealous teenage daughter isn’t happy about the cuckoo in the nest and sets about ousting her.
When her attempts to do so lead to near-tragedy – and the Walls’ veneer of middle-class respectability begins to crumble – everyone in the household is forced to reassess what really matters. Funny and poignant, Cuckoo in the Nest is inspired by Fran Hill’s own experience of being fostered as a teenager.
I found this a heartrending, funny and utterly captivating novel. Set in the heatwave of 1976 (which I myself remember well), the story is narrated by highly intelligent 14 year old, Jackie Chadwick, who opens her story with a deadpan, spare, stark account of the daily realities of her life with her disabled father, who, following her mother’s death, became a violent alcoholic. Jackie eventually accepts the help offered to her by the Social Services, and goes to live with a foster family, the Walls, supposedly on a ‘temporary’ basis. The Social Workers, first Bobbie, and later Cynthia, come over very well, doing their very best in the circumstances and showing sensitivity and compassion (as a similar character did in the book ‘My Name is Leon’).
Jackie herself is bright, perceptive, and full of wit, despite her tragic background. When she enters her new ‘temporary’ home she soon discovers that her would-be foster mother Bridget tries too hard, wants everything to be perfect, and borders on the obsessive compulsive; while Bridget’s husband Nick avoids conflict and hides himself away in his shed much of the time, restoring bicycles. Meanwhile, Amanda, their daughter, rude, surly and ungrateful, is deeply resentful of Jackie’s presence, and makes no attempt to disguise it. Throughout the dry, acutely observant and often very funny narrative, we, along with Jackie, take small incremental steps towards getting to know each family member more closely, their personal and emotional issues and relationship difficulties. The author keeps the momentum steadily rising with her incisive depiction of uneasy family dynamics, and the reader is held captive trying to anticipate the inevitable crisis point but with no idea when that is going to happen. Flashes of dry humour slip in unexpectedly often making the reader laugh out loud.
Jackie’s resilience and sarcasm carry her through all the provocations by the bitter and troubled Amanda. I found the accounts of Jackie’s attempted contacts with her father moving and very sad, and this aspect of the novel did remind me a little again of scenes in ‘My Name is Leon’, in which we see the unbreakable loyalty of a child towards an abusive parent. The adults around Jackie are clearly not coping at all, while she dispassionately observes and records what is going on.
Surprisingly as the novel progresses, I come to like Amanda, thinking I would probably feel just as he does, if I were in her place. Bridget’s obsession with putting up a perfect front backfires, and the family explode in open warfare; followed by a slight rapprochement between Amanda and Jackie. When Jackie visits her dad in prison, he makes a devastating confession. Then the family heads into an even great crisis with shocking revelations about the adults, leading Amanda and Jackie to start building a curious alliance. I loved the way the author handles the delicate transition for Amanda from open hostility to acceptance, and the edgy way the two girls navigate moving towards a new understanding of each other. This is an outstanding novel of family relationships and an uplifting tale of personal resilience which many readers will be able to identify with even if they have never shared Jackie’s tragic background.
Rated: 5 stars
I received a complementary digital ARC of this novel from Legend Press via Net Galley at my request in exchange for an honest review.
Publication Date: 26 April 2023
About the Author
Fran is a writer and retired English teacher living in Warwickshire, England. She has written three books: a novella called ‘Being Miss’ (self-published 2014), a funny teacher-memoir called ‘Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?’ (SPCK 2020) and a novel called ‘Cuckoo in the Nest’ being published by Legend Press in April 2023.
She is a member of the Society of Authors and the Association of Christian Writers and was selected for the prestigious Room 204 emerging writers’ programme run by Writing West Midlands in 2016-17.
Do visit Fran’s website at http://www.franhill.co.uk for more info, and sign up there for entertaining email updates!
One thought on “Book Review: ‘Cuckoo in the Nest’ by Fran Hill”
This sounds wonderful. I want to read it. I try to avoid reading book reviews for this very reason! Well done Fran and great review. I can already see it as a film!