Sal by Mick Kitson was one of those books that I was instantly drawn to by the cover, and then was completely sucked into by the blurb on the back. I’m a massive fan of road-trip stories and this one, whilst mostly survival based, had me kinda thinking it’d be similar.
Sal is 13 and her half-sister Peppa is 10. When their useless, alcoholic lump of a mother fails to protect them from her boyfriend, Robert, and his deviant and abusive ways, Sal decides to take action.She does what she can to immediately stop the problem and then, armed with a few supplies and knowledge of survival tips from books and YouTube, takes her sister and herself off to the Scottish wilderness to survive and live off the land.
“She turned her head and stared at me. ‘Your know everything’ she said. ‘Aye, I do’ I said.”
This was a wonderful book that I thoroughly enjoyed, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have some issues with it. The first thing is that I can’t believe the main character is 13 – and that’s not a compliment, I genuinely can’t believe she is 13. I appreciate that the life she has currently survived may have matured her faster, and she is clearly intelligent, but I read her as more of a 15 or 16 year old. I also read Peppa as a few years younger than 10 too, perhaps closer to 7 or 8 years old.
Whilst I found the book to be well written for the most part, Sal is our narrator and the writing reflects that. The book is written as a teenage might talk; it’s full of slang (which is fine for me, I’ve lived in Scotland since 2009) which might alienate some readers and the sentences go on and on for a bit. There are several rambling and repetitive sentences that we really could have done without.
I’m a massive fan of books that show their readers things rather than tell them. Unfortunately Sal is a teller – there were a lot of sentences that ‘explained something, and then something happened and then the characters did something and then something else happened.’
But with that being said, it’s easy to get used to Sal’s narrative as Kitson has expertly blended speech and the written word in a believable way.
“I always looked after Peppa when she was ill and I used to give her Calpol when she was a baby if she was teething or was getting hot, and I was only about four but Maw couldn’t do that stuff with her or me.”
The subject matter is incredibly dark and deals with a lot of mature themes such as; child sexual abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, sex work and murder to name just a few. But Kitson has written this in such a way that all of these themes are explored in a light tone, but are never made light of – and for me that shows incredible skill.
I actually found the ending rather abrupt, but it was a difficult story to bring to a close in a short page count. I also don’t think I would have called it Sal. I’m not sure what I would have called it instead, but I feel like the story was so much bigger than Sal as a character was. But that’s just my thoughts – it doesn’t take away from it being an amazing book.
I had the pleasure of attending an evening with Mick Kitson to hear him discuss Sal. If you’re interested, you can read about the evening here.
“I sat and thought about what to do. I had tried to plan for something like this by bringing the antibiotics but I didn’t get enough and I didn’t know if the four I had would work.”
Does Sal sound like your kind of read? You can find it here and add it to your collection.
PLEASE NOTE: I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.