'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Review: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Ok, colour me impressed. This is one heck of a novel. And it's the author's debut, too. Maryam Master tackles the most controversial and sensitive topic there is - death - and does it very well too.Straight from page one, we know that twelve-and-a-half-year-old girl Ana has non Hodgkins lymphoma, which means that she is dying.

Although not a graphic novel, it is heavily illustrated, probably to underscore the humour that runs through and lighten the heavier parts. 

We join Ana some time after she has received the diagnosis - Master avoids the melodrama of the big reveal. We meet Ana when she has digested this news and is dealing with the reality of her illness.

Told in first person, Ana, doesn't sugar coat it.  And please don't imagine Ana is a Beth from Little Women type either. There's no hint of self pity, Ana has so much life, so much vitality. She certainly isn't dead yet and intends to live on her terms. 

Ana's voice bursts from the page and the reader has no choice but to be pulled into her world. She is moving forward, juggling the demands of school, friendship and puberty alongside her chemotherapy and symptoms.

Enter the antagonist. Alyssa Anderson (a nod to Alison Ashley perhaps?) is all blonde perfection. Her mean-girl vibe takes a turn for the bizarre and the reader is left wondering what her motivations really are. Mid-way through, Ana learns what a truly toxic person Alyssa is. 

Ana has a difficult choice to make - to waste her previous time hating Alyssa for her unconscionable actions, or to forgive and let it go. 

And if you think you can predict where this goes, think again. Master throws in another twist around Alyssa's motivations. Ana learns that the world is not neat and that loose ends remain untied.

Overall, there are some tear-jerking moments here, as well as lots of humour. And because the story is told in first person, I think that a younger reader needs to be warned (spoiler alert) to not expect an eleventh hour reprieve. 

Title: Exit Through the Gift Shop 
Author: Maryam Master
Illustrator: Astred Hicks
Publisher: PanMacMillan, $16.99
Publication Date: 27 July 2021
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760983512
For ages: 8 -12 years
Type: Middle Grade Fiction