Review by Ceri Padley
“Amongst the wave of new British writers, comes the touching debut of Isabel Ashdown. ‘Glasshopper’ is the story of a mother and son’s struggle to understand each other and cope with whatever life throws at them.
Thirteen-year-old Jake is just like any other boy on the cusp of puberty: new music and Saturday jobs are at the top of his agenda, while girls are the strange exotic creatures that must be looked at but not touched (particularly his pretty Classics teacher). But behind closed doors, Jake struggles to cope with his mother’s ongoing battle with depression and alcoholism. His father moved out a few weeks ago. So has his older brother, Matthew. That leaves Jake as the man of the house: the one who must remember to get him and little brother, Andy, up in time for school in the morning; the one making toast for dinner; and the one keeping a watchful eye over his mother to make sure she doesn’t get herself into any serious trouble.
However, as with any story, there is another side to it. While Jake begins his journey into adolescence, his mother, Mary, reminisces back to her younger years and takes a look at the people, places, and relationships formed, that helped to shape her life.
‘Glasshopper’ is the kind of debut you’d be excited about for any new writer. Spanning over a period of thirty years, and drifting from middle to working class Britain, this is a story that will warm your hearts, make you smile, and have you shedding tears. Ashdown’s narrative for both mother and son is perfectly crafted to build a couple of characters who you really believe in and are honest enough to have their good and bad sides.
The double narrative is also helpful to capture the innocence of childhood and the harsh realities of being an adult. While Jake looks up to his father and sees only emptiness in his mother’s eyes, Mary brings a maturity and emotional whirlwind of a past to her story that allows us to see the differences between her youth and Jake’s.
While ‘Glasshopper’ isn’t filled to the brim with adventures and incidents on each page, I still found myself eager to read on. The story is an observational one that takes you through what seems like every day events of real people’s lives. We don’t need a prolonged ‘Will they?/Won’t they?’ romance or a mystery revealed in every other chapter. The beauty of Ashdown’s writing is that readers are able to connect to the real characters presented and understand that life isn’t always all that easy.
We take the good in Jake and Mary with the bad and really want them to find each other long enough to know that they have someone to connect with. Every moment is understated in just the right way.
In a way, I almost find it hard to describe the book properly; ‘Glasshopper’ is a story carried by raw emotion and the importance of relationships, and no amount of synopsis building is going to justify that.
This really is a great start for Isabel Ashdown; her character representations, no matter what sex or age, are flawless, and her descriptions of small hometowns and country and beachside holidays create superb images to match the story.
It’s hard to know who to recommend this to without encouraging everyone to go out and buy it. Such a great range of characters within such a small group of friends and family is enough to keep anyone turning the page. Ashdown is a definite one to watch for in British literature, and I look forward to see what her next page-turner will be about.”