Things don't go smoothly, and it's not long before Holly is feeling the old white hot anger welling up inside. So she hits the road. She puts on a blonde wig and becomes seventeen year old Solace - glamour girl, brave, free to go where she pleases. And so Holly Hogan embarks on the journey of her lifetime...
In some ways, the story of Holly Hogan starts with what many readers might think of as a happy ending. Fostered by a well-meaning middle class couple, it seems that fourteen year old Holly is being given a second chance at happiness. But all Holly has ever wanted is to find the mam she's sure is out there looking for her. For her, fostered is not the same as belonging. Troubled and insecure, Holly is a character who still has far to go and much to learn.
It's difficult to describe a character who spends the majority of her story pretending to be somebody else. Holly is the mixed-up teen whose tough-girl facade almost convinces, but not quite: mistrustful of kindness, quick to anger, but carting around the same stuffed dog she's had since she was a toddler. As Solace, she's a glamour girl - captivating and free-spirited, hitchhiking her way to Ireland in a blonde wig and a shoplifted dress. And yet it's through Solace that we really get to know who Holly is. In her blonde, seventeen year old alter-ego Holly finds the strength to make the journey home, and to face whatever she might find there. She makes bad choices, she does not-so-admirable things, but readers will form a bond with her because she's humorous and she's real.
I have to confess, at first I suspected that I might find Solace of the Road a little slow moving for my tastes. While it is the case that there isn't a huge sense of urgency to Holly's journey, the story is nonetheless compelling. As Holly gets herself in and out of trouble, each crisis brings her closer to facing up to a truth she's buried so deeply she doesn't even know it's there. Although there's a whimsical feel to the way that the discovery of a blonde wig leads Holly to adopt the persona of Solace, for the most part Dowd's telling of the story is gritty, realistic and unflinching.
Solace of the Road is a novel that is ultimately full of hope. It's about home and belonging and making peace with the past. It's also the kind of book that, from now on, I'll be pointing anyone who doubts the quality of YA fiction towards. If you're looking for a story with emotional depth and irresistible charm, this one has all that and more. It's just beautiful.
Out: March 4th 2010 in this edition, UK
Thank you to David Fickling Books / Random House UK for providing a copy for review.