Christine Bongers’ new novel develops the plot device of an intruder, not into a mystery or suspense narrative, but to a coming-of-age story. Fourteen year old Kat is about to be intruded upon by people and situations she does not want. Her life has been on hold since the death of her mother but grief is a finite excuse. Kat needs to move on, find friends, take risks and most importantly trust again. The catalyst of a stranger in her bedroom is just the fright she needs to stop the navel gazing and start living.
If only Kat’s progression could be easy. She fights the introduction of a protector – a drooling loveable dog called Hercules. She resists the overtures of the re-establishment of a relationship from her mother’s best friend, Edie, and she manages to halt the progress of a possible romance with a new boy across the park, Al. Kat’s selfishness, her deep grief, her sense of betrayal from both her father and Edie are still fresh wounds. These flaws are balanced with Kat’s snarky humour, her burgeoning understanding about how insular she has allowed herself to become, and her growing sense that it’s not always about her.
I love the gritty realism that defines this author’s writing. Chris doesn’t shy away from dog drools and farts. Kat screams when unhinged, yells thoughtlessly, and acts like an angry teenager who believes the world is against her. It’s both maddening and totally understandable. The other characters in the book are depicted through Kat’s eyes, so we slowly come to see their true qualities as Kat does. Jimmy, dad, musician, absent father turned desperate dad, trying to give Kat the space she needs, but quickly running out of patience. Al, dog lover, science geek with his own story to share, who tells Kat a few home truths she’s not ready to hear. And the enigmatic Edie, whose unusual habits start to make sense as pieces of Kat’s life puzzle fall into place.
Intruder is smart and funny, with authentic characters and poignant moments of insight and affection. Highly recommended.