Sometimes a new book comes out and you seem to see it EVERYWHERE. I think the team at Scholastic has done a brilliant job on this cover (I gather the designer handwrote it all, which made me think what a cool job she has!) as it’s very striking. Seven Days is Eve Ainsworth‘s debut YA novel and it’s what used to be called (unfairly, in my view) ‘issue-based’. Which is silly, because if you’re creating realistic characters, then every single book is going to be ‘issue-based’ because human issues are basically what makes a story!
Seven Days is the story of events over a single week and is told in two voices: Kez, and the girl she is bullying, Jess. It’s not a new idea to show bullying from both points of view, but the writing is strong and the characters convincing. It’s hard not to warm to Kez, despite her appalling behaviour, because Eve deftly shows how desperately unhappy Kez is and how her low self-esteem makes her strike out at people who – as she sees it – choose not to fight back.
Kez has a boyfriend, Lyn, but he won’t open up to her and she has the sinking feeling that he’s just ‘not that into’ her. A need to be loved and appreciated makes her cling on to the little signs of affection he gives her, and when she discovers that he is childhood friends with Jess, her fury and jealousy know no bounds.
It is in Jess though that we as readers are forced to confront our own prejudices. Jess’s self-loathing at her size (she is overweight) encourages us to find her repulsive too – and so when, halfway through the book, it is pointed out to Jess by another character that she has clear skin and beautiful eyes, we as readers are forced to reconsider our own judgments. From her references to wobbling thighs and other girls’ nasty comments, to her own mother’s frustration that Jess can’t stop eating biscuits, we assume that she is a big lump of a girl, unattractive to all. And yet Eve Ainsworth carefully avoids telling us exactly how overweight Jess is (does it matter? Is a size 20 worse than an 18? Where does the automatic societal conditioning about what is and isn’t attractive kick in?) but instead plants tiny pointers to Jess’s kind nature, the way she looks after her younger sister almost single-handedly, and the fact that she laughs easily when with someone she trusts – so that we begin to realise that Jess’s depression and obsession over her weight can be traced back and blamed entirely on the people around her.
Kez, of course, manipulates this to her own ends, because that’s what girls are really good at – picking away at each other’s deepest fears. But the bullying of another is also causing her own self-destruction, and the ending is inevitable. I felt things were tied up just a little too neatly then, but that’s personal preference. Seven Days is a great debut from Eve and does that thing that all good fiction does: puts the reader in someone else’s shoes and makes them understand why people make the decisions they do, whether for good or bad.