Girl In The Window by Penny Joelson

The Blurb On The Back:

Who is the girl in the window?

Kasia watches the world go by from her bedroom. She’s not well enough to leave the house, but she sees everything.

Then Kasia witnesses an abduction … but nobody is missing.  Does the girl in the window hold the key to the mystery? 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

14-year-old Kasia Novak lives with her parents in a house in an English town (her older brother Marek is currently working in Poland after dropping out of university).  Kasia contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) after getting tonsillitis a year earlier and as a result has been confined to her house with her mum giving up her job to care for her.  Sometimes Kasia feels so bad that she can’t get out of bed.  She has a tutor who visits once a week to try and keep her up to date with her lessons, but the CFS makes studying hard and she’s worried that she’ll have to drop some GCSE subjects and although her best friend Ellie drops by to keep her updated on what’s happening in school, she still feels as if she’s missing out.  Her only real contact with the outside world is what she sees outside the window.

One night, Kasia is closing the curtains when she sees a young woman being dragged into a car near her house.  She calls the police but it happened so fast that she couldn’t get the car’s number plate but she saw a young girl in the window of the house opposite hers and tells them that she might be able to give them a better description.  The police later tell her, though, that they haven’t had any reports of a young woman being missing and, more mysteriously, when they went to the house opposite hers, they were told that no young girl lives there …

Penny Joelson’s YA contemporary novel incorporates a thriller element with a romance but while it’s strong on setting out what it’s like to live with CFS and I liked Kasia’s Polish heritage, the girl in the window’s storyline is weak (to the point that I felt it did a disservice to the subject matter by relegating it to a sub-plot) and romance cliched so that overall, the novel doesn’t manage to rise above its parts.

The strongest elements of the book relate to Kasia’s CFS, which Joelson sets out in a way that’s easy to understand and sympathise with (unsurprising as she suffers from the condition herself) – especially Kasia’s depression and anxiety and fear that she will never get better. Joelson is also sensitive to the perceptions of the disease by others because it is an ‘invisible’ condition and the symptoms vary, it is open to mockery and disbelief and I thought the scenes where Kasia worries about what other people think was sensitively done.  The effect of Kasia’s condition on her parents is well drawn and I thought that Joelson set up an interesting contrast between Kasia’s mum (who has given up work and is trying to give her daughter the support she needs, despite the emotional toll it has on her) and her father’s optimism that his daughter will get better but lack of sensitivity as to the impact on both her and his wife and how he takes out his exasperation about the situation on the absent Marek, who he feels has let the family down by dropping out of university.

However the thriller element is relegated very much to a side plot and, given the nature of the subject matter (trafficking and modern slavery), I thought that it did the subject a disservice and the girl herself is treated almost as an afterthought.  It’s further exacerbated by the fact that Kasia initially wonders if something supernatural is going on (a development that I thought was a little silly) and then gets side tracked by a storyline with her elderly neighbour and the introduction of her grandson Nav for a romantic subplot that really didn’t add anything for me (mainly because it’s so cliched and predictable).

Ultimately, I think that this is worth a read because the portrayal of CFS is so strong and it’s a subject that doesn’t ordinarily get covered in YA fiction but I did wish that the thriller element had been up to the seriousness of its subject.

GIRL IN THE WINDOW was released in the United Kingdom on 9th August 2018.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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