A difficult book to love,
This review is from: Loving April (Puffin Teenage Fiction) (Paperback)
Loving April (1995) is one of Melvin Burgess' early books, published a year before his chart-topping, media-exciting Junk. Set in the 1920s, Loving April is the story of Tony and the titular April. Tony and his mother have moved into a rural village following their father's desertion. Both of them are fairly useless Downton Abbey types - neither capable of cooking a meal or cleaning their own house. Still, while Tony whines, his mother does her best to make do, buying a "cook book" and trying to "get a job", much like the common people do.
The two are saved by April, a local girl of Tony's age. April is deaf and unschooled - she runs around the village with her collection of rescued animals, unintentionally making a huge nuisance of herself (in one of the book's better scenes, she brings her pet swan to church on Sunday morning). April initially scares Tony, who has never met anyone like her. But she confidently takes over the running of their household, appearing (like magic) to cook meals and do practical things like "start fires". In turn, Tony's mother teaches April the basics of etiquette, table manners and how to dress - all things that no one else had ever bothered to do.
As is inevitable, April (who scrubs up nicely) and Tony (who loosens up nicely) start to get warm and squishy feelings for one another. Tony stays conscious of his class and background throughout. He sees his situation as temporary, and thinks himself above the rest of the village (April included). His mother's somewhat "single" state also upsets him. While Tony wrestles with his insecurities, April deals with more pressing problems. As someone neglected by her family and scorned by the village, April must fend for herself. Her attachment to Tony only makes her more of an outcast - the ugly duckling adopted by a family of fallen swans. The local boys also have a distinctly predatory air. As April sheds her protective layer of dirt, she finds herself with even worse problems.
Loving April starts better than it ends. Tony is never likeable, but at least at the beginning, he's somewhat empathetic. As the book continues, his desperate snobbery and misogyny make him more and more irritating. April is a less grating character (if somewhat overly fey), but that only makes her constant series of misfortunes more painful. April's a genuinely good person, while Tony is an utter jerk.
Mr. Burgess specialises in providing unDickensian anti-karmic resolutions to his stories an Loving April is par for the course - only one of these two people deserves a "happily ever after", and it will certainly not come from being conjoined with the other. Tony survives his situation, but never surpasses it. April, however, exudes the sense of character growth that Tony does not.