Marlena By Julie Buntin – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Firstly I’d like to say huge thanks to Picador and Grace Harrison for the proof of this book.

I have to hold my hands up and say I didn’t really know what to expect with this novel. I am not a fan of teenage ‘angsty’ stories. My least favourite protagonist would be a teenage girl and this book has two….but I’m becoming much more willing to give books a go these days because I’ve discovered some blinkin corkers this way. I’m glad to say this book was no exception.

15 year old Cat has just moved to a new town with her mother and brother Jimmy, following the breakdown of her parents marriage.

Her mum is struggling somewhat with being suddenly single and bringing up her two teenage children alone. She uses alcohol as a crutch and can be found comatose in bed most nights.

Lonely Cat finds herself fascinated with Marlena across the street. She lives with her drug dealing father and her somewhat neglected younger brother after their mother ran out on them. Cat gravitates towards Marlena, this interesting, cool girl who seems troubled and wayward.

The girls form a quick intense friendship, soon spending the majority of their time together often getting into scrapes and regularly ditching school to hang out around the neighbourhood, drinking and taking drugs. Marlena slots easily into their family and their home, desperate to belong.

Whilst Cat is more of an experimenter with drugs, alcohol is her main vice. Marlena however begins to rely heavily on drugs to get her through the day. She finds herself having to sacrifice more and more of herself in order to obtain the drugs she craves from her dealer.

When Marlena is found dead in the woods near their home, drowned in 6 inches of freezing cold water, Cat’s life is irrevocably changed forever.

Looking back on their intense but brief year of friendship, a now adult Cat is obviously still scarred by events and still using alcohol as a crutch just to see her through the day. She wonders what exactly happened to Marlena in those woods, could she have done more to save her friend? Was she in some way to blame?

I really enjoyed this book and it’s gritty rawness took me a little by surprise. It was a coming of age novel which I expected but it was also oh so much more. It was achingly sad and poignant. This friendship between two vulnerable girls who are essentially both lonely, doubting themselves and where they fit in. Struggling to find their identities in a small town.

Cat abandoned by her father who is far too caught up with his new young mistress and Marlena, also abandoned by her neglectful father, lured into his world of drugs without a mother figure in her life. Their friendship is intense and all too brief.

I haven’t read The Girls by Emma Cline but I have it on my shelves and this book has been likened to that.  If you’ve read The Girls and enjoyed it then you need to get your hands on Marlena.  I would highly recommend this book as a great summer read, intense, raw, visceral and thoroughly gripping.

See you all soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

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