“THIS NOWHERE PLACE” by Natasha Bell

Synopsis:

Nothing ever happened here . . . Until the first girl died.
______

Ten years ago, Mo arrived at the white cliffs of Dover, befriended by teenagers Cali and Jude.

They thought they’d save each other, yet within months their friendship would see two of them dead and the third scarred for life.

Now documentary maker Tarek and his film crew are in town, asking difficult questions about what happened that summer.

Because in the shadow of the white cliffs it’s easy for people and their stories to get lost . . .

And as Tarek will discover, the truth is something that must be unburied carefully.

Or it might just it bury you . . .

Thoughts:

What an incredible discovery! A dark, thought provoking mystery that hooked me right in. Thank you so much again to the lovely people from Michael J Books for sharing this amazing book with me. 

When I read the summary and synopsis, I was expecting a thriller / mystery, but this turned out to be so much more than I imagined.  

2026, Dover, Tarek Zayat, Syrian refugee having turned his life around, is filming his next documentary. He hasn’t told anybody about this, but he has more than a professional interest in this new subject “The Dover Girls”. 

Cali. Jude. Mo. Three 15 year old girls whose fate has been sealed in the darkest ways 10 years ago. In a city where extreme nationalism and racism are still (way too) prominent, finding its place and a purpose can be truly hard. How far would you go for love or friendship? 

The construction of the story was very clever: moving from clips/script of the filming – to 2016 and what really happened – to 2026 and what all the protagonists are recounting – and finally how it all comes to light in the end.. and what an end this is!!! I didn’t expect that, or if I did, I didn’t want to believe this would be it!

I really fell in love with all the protagonists, even Jude which I really disliked the behaviour of. They all had so much depth and complexity, it completely transported you with them, to Dover, and the immersive experience within their feelings was quite raw.

This fascinating tale also broached very deep and powerful topics through the background and the characters, and I wanted to expand on those;

Racism: history seems to never stop repeating itself, the way the migrants are treated is simply appalling and those nationalism movements made anger rise from deep within myself. We all need to unite and fight this off, it is so important, more than ever. It was so infuriatingly true to read statements such as “it isn’t that 52% of the population is racist, It is the racists who think they have the support of 52% of the population”. Or the comments of some people that swimming across the channel is comparable to what migrants go through, hundreds of them on a boat amongst dead bodies… 

Immigration: the horrors all those refugees had (and still have) to suffer through to arrive to a land where they are often not welcome, at least and sadly not by everyone. Tarek’s recollections of the life of bombs and death he left behind, his excruciating journey as tragic as the first, escaping one level of hell to find himself in another, was truly heartbreaking. Even if you don’t get to experience Mo’s, you can only imagine she has gone through the same as Tarek, which brings another dimension to it all.

Mental health issues: when untreated and undiagnosed, mental health problems have so many devastating effects on the afflicted people but also on those around them. Through this book, you witness how profoundly a parent’s mental issues can affect their children. The grief Cali and her sister Rose had to live with led them to extreme behavior and dramatic changes. Cali had always been a sweet, happy and positive child, generous with the world and everyone – but a seriously depressed mother, the absence of a father, being deprived of people in her life being there for her, made her question everything. Following her transformation from happy to suicidal turned out to be a very sorrowful experience, it made me feel so powerless. 

It really made me appreciate everything that I have. How lucky I am to be surrounded by loving people who are there for me, that will never stop telling me everything is going to be ok, that support me through adversity, and love me no matter what. Without love and a support system, people to count on, the feeling of worthlessness can engulf you completely, and the consequences can be terrible and destructive. Natasha demonstrated the importance of support in one’s life, and what a difference it makes in the end.

In Cali’s case, it can lead you to an irreversible act, but in Rose’s case, this feeling of worthlessness drove her to heart-breaking self destruction through drugs, alcohol, meaningless sex, anything to fall into oblivion; in both cases, a desperate cry for help. Fitting in when you’re different, whether because of the color of your skin, your family situation, or your sexual orientation is one of the biggest challenge in our society. 

Natasha really dug deep through emotions, what drives people to act in a certain way, what motivates their behaviors, how our perceptions are flawed by our own personal situations. Different upbringings can create a wedge overtime, and affect our decisions. It is brought to light for each protagonist but I was particularly touched by Tarek’s contemplations as regard to his unborn child: how being a migrant without family will affect him in his role as a father. Powerful.

The twists and turns were perfection, the execution was flawless, this book is a true success. It’s out tomorrow and everyone should get a copy!

Thank you Natasha, I will make sure to pick up “His Perfect Wife” whilst I wait for your next work.

TW: death, suicide, substance abuse, mental illness, depression, racism

Out 18 March 2021 – Published by Michael Joseph, part of Penguin Random House.