‘Paper Avalanche’ book review: Lisa Williamson’s latest novel is so good you won’t be able to put it down


The writer doesn't cheat her readers by providing a magic solution to everyone's problems, but she also doesn't leave you hanging

John Millen |

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Paper Avalanche
By Lisa Williamson
Published by David Fickling Books
IBSN 978 1 91098 996 8

There is an interesting role-reversal at the centre of Lisa Williamson’s new YA novel. Isn’t it supposed to be teenagers who don’t keep their rooms tidy and their mothers who complain about the mess? In Paper Avalanche, it’s the other way around.

Ro – short for Rosie – is 14 years old, and hates mess. Bonnie, her mother, is a hoarder, and their whole house resembles a landfill because Bonnie refuses to throw out anything. Every room is almost ceiling-high with old magazines, boxes, books, and useless cards, leaflets, catalogues and bills. Poor Ro has to clear a way through the mess every time she wants to go to her room or the bathroom.

The squalor in which Ro lives scares her. She is worried that Social Services will take her into care. She doesn’t dare to hang out with schoolmates because they might find out about her living situation, and of course she never invites anyone home. Her mother’s hoarding is slowly turning Ro into a secretive social outcast.

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Two individuals suddenly enter Ro’s life, and she finds herself on the edge of making friends. Noah moves into a neighbouring house with his younger brother and father, and Ro cannot avoid his charming personality. She does her best to keep him at arm’s length, but Noah wants to get to know the girl next door.

Tanvi, a new girl in Ro’s class, is an even bigger danger. She has returned to school after successful cancer treatment. Constantly cheerful and talkative, oblivious to Ro’s attempts to reject her, Tanvi eventually breaks through Ro’s protective shell. This could have dire consequences.

This is Williamson’s third novel, and it is a moving and richly entertaining read. Ro’s first-person narrative is warm, and very human.

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Her married-again father and selfish mother do nothing to support Ro. Dad is involved with his second family, and callously indifferent to his eldest child; her mother is equally hard to understand or like. Ro is pretty much on her own, and will need to reach out to her new friends if she is to survive.

Paper Avalanche is almost 400 pages long, but it’s the sort of novel that you can’t really put down until the protagonists’ fates are revealed. Williamson doesn’t cheat her readers by providing a magic solution to Ro’s problems. Nor does she leave the plot hanging in the air.

Paper Avalanche is young adult fiction at its engaging ing best. The characters are real and the standard of writing is exceptionally high. Another powerful and original novel from one of the best and most exciting writers of this genre around at the moment.

John Millen can be contacted at [email protected]