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Careless by Kirsty Capes

I read this a couple of weeks ago and I have found myself thinking about it since. 

Bess is 15, dreams of being a film-maker, is in long-term foster care and pregnant. Unable to talk to her foster mother or her social worker the only person she can really confide in is her best friend.

Kirsty Capes’s debut novel, Careless, is searingly brutal, matter of fact and honest. At the same time it has warmth and moments of humour and I was hugely invested in Bess and her best friend Eshal.  Capes draws on her own experience of the care system creating a context which lends greater complexity and emotional charge to Bess’s circumstances. Rather than feeling heavy-handed, this is skilfully done, and that experience is deftly woven in to the story giving it a depth that stays with you and poses questions.

Bess is full of the contradictory teenage insecurities and bravado that many readers will relate to, but hers is a story in which the decisions she faces are distressing and the consequences huge.  Capes doesn’t shy away from that and there are gut-wrenching scenes but, in my opinion, although upsetting, they are well-handled.

She is excellent on our need for unconditional love, the intensity and loyalty of teenage friendships and the need to belong. ‘Careless’ is also a novel which highlights quite how much courage it can take to be ourselves when pleasing others seems to be what is expected of you.

A tough but compelling read in many ways, and there are some distressing scenes, but I felt they were treated honestly and compassionately. For many of us this will be an insight into a very different life yet you can’t help but be in invested in Bess and her situation, her choices and her future. 

Long-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. I will be looking out for whatever Kirsty Capes writes next.

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