Ninepins by Rosy Thornton

A single mother of a troubled pre-teen takes in a 17-year-old girl with a history of arson, and finds her image of herself as a mother challenged and strengthened.

I loved Rosy Thornton’s Tapesty of Love so I leapt at the chance to review Ninepins. Thornton is a gorgeous writer and in Ninepins she offers a compelling situation that reads like a thriller.

Laura is an academic living in the fens outside of Cambridge. Her asthmatic daughter Beth is 12 and just starting at a new school, dealing with peer pressure and growing up. Laura is flummoxed by Beth’s changing demeanor and explorations with rebellion, but tries her hardest to keep the lines of communication opened. Her home is a former pump station, where the marshy, boggy fens were fought back by engineering but still pose a threat to the aging dikes. She rents out the pump house, converted into a bedsit, and she’s approached with an unusual request: to accept as a lodger Willow, a 17-year-old who has been “in care” (think the foster system/juvenile detention) because of a case of arson when she was not much older than Beth. Willow’s mom is a mess, a hippie who has never been there for her daughter. Laura’s heart goes out to the girl, whom she wants to rescue and whom she also sees a potential savior for Beth.

I’m sure you can imagine how these plot threads might come together, but what you can’t imagine is how hard it is to put this book down! It may seem like a quiet character study but the emotional drama is just riveting. And while it’s not exactly a mystery or a thriller, the atmosphere and mood maintained a wonderful level of suspense and tension. I’m not sure how well known Thornton is outside of the UK, but she really deserves a wider audience. She’s a kindred spirit to another of my favorites, T. Greenwood, so if you like her please do check this one out.

Many thanks to Sandstone Press for the review copy.

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