Have you ever read a book so difficult to describe, but so stunningly brilliant, that you try to recommend it to everyone & anyone, without giving away too much plot? That’s how I feel about Follow Me Down. I’ll try to keep this review as Spoiler Free as possible…
Adamma Okomma is no stranger to new places & new friends. As the daughter of a Nigerian Diplomat, the sixteen year old has gone to a lot of schools in a lot of countries in her life. But when she arrives at the private school Crofton Hall & meets Scarlett Chiltern, she realises that this world is like nothing she’s ever experienced before. Scarlett is intoxicating, dramatic, & exciting, & the two girls quickly become the closest of friends. As Adamma settles into her new life at the school, she soon starts to hear the usual rumours, who is dating who, which girls are rivals… And the secret of an attacker who preys on drunk girls in the nearby woods. When she & Scarlett have a falling out after both pursuing the same boy, Adamma finds life at Crofton Hall lonely, lacking the spark that her best friend brought to even the most mundane of activities. Then Scarlett goes missing. Full of guilt that she may have driven her away, Adamma is determined to track her down & make things right between them, even if it means finding out more about the people around her than she ever wanted to know.
It seems rather odd to describe a book as dark as Follow Me Down as Beautiful, but it genuinely is. Much like Scarlett, the use of language & metaphor, is intoxicating & captivating, driving the story in a harmonious, almost poetic way. Tanya has a really superb grasp of language, & weaves a brilliantly witty narrative, full of clever descriptions & engaging pop-culture references (Katniss & Buffy both get some fun name drops). As well as being full of great uses of language, the plot itself is brilliantly divided into two alternating time periods, running up to Scarlett’s disappearance, & following the events in the days that follow. This creates a real sense of tension throughout the novel, with some really different views of events from present day to reflecting on it weeks later. I felt like the flash-forwards really made going back that bit more dramatic, tragic & touching, & made the character’s much more developed by seeing their character arc interspliced with events which happen in the heat of the moment.
The character’s in the book are superbly real, & flawed, & their actions – even when aggressive or petty – feel like the ill-advised choices of genuine teenagers struggling with new, difficult scenarios. I think that’s what makes Adamma such a loveable lead character, she faces some horrific situations with intelligence & maturity, but still makes the mistakes any teenager would, which gives her a good all-roundedness. She’s a passionate, caring & stubborn character, who’s great to follow, & easy to relate to. Her emotions are worn on her sleeve, & that makes her loveable, even during her mistakes. Scarlett is larger than life, brash & confident, but as with the other characters, she has a softer, more vulnerable side to her that makes her much more than just a drama queen character. She’s someone we’ve all known, but the insights into her insecurities, her dreams & her worries, make her much more sympathetic than we probably are to people like her in real life. One of my other favourite characters was Detective Sergeant Bone, the police officer assigned to Scarlett’s disappearance – A sardonic, self-deprecating officer with a sarcastic streak, but with his heart in the right place. His dialogue often crackles with electricity, & despite his world weary exterior, he has a passionate interior lurking under his surface. The other characters are also people of two halves, just like the story, with Mr. Lucas as a passionate teacher with a troubled past, & fellow student Dominic whose confident, overbearing exterior belies the soft, caring nature he demonstrates throughout the novel. Adamma’s parents & the house leader Mrs Delany are the solid, unchanging adults to anchor the whirlwind characters of the story with logic. Adamma’s father in particular is a lovely, caring man who offers his daughter much needed grounding & advice at some of the most troubling moments of the book.
Follow Me Down is a fantastic example of UKYA literature. It’s a beautiful display of language, with a haunting, chilling plot & really complex characters. It deals with some really dark, serious issues that are incredibly important for Teens to be facing & understanding. It’s not one for the younger end of teen fiction, but it’s not to be missed for the older end. Tanya is a shining example of how to use metaphors & similes, deep & well developed characters & a quirky, disjointed narrative style to create a really dark, gripping & heart wrenching novel. One of this year’s best books by a long way.
Thanks for reading!