Review - Good intentions do not a novel make

25th November 2011 at 00:00

There is a place on the teenage bookshelf for a hard-hitting novel that, through compelling plot and engaging characters, highlights the danger of forced marriage. Unfortunately, But It's Not Fair, by Aneeta Prem, is not that book.

Aneeta Prem is the founder of Freedom Charity, an organisation that campaigns against forced marriage, so one cannot fault her intentions. However, as every teacher who has given marks for effort knows, intentions are not the same as ability.

But It's Not Fair opens with the teenage heroine, Vinny, attending the wedding of her friend, Sasha. Sasha, wedding guests note, rejected several potential suitors, before agreeing to marry Jaan, with whom she is now very much in love. See? Arranged marriage. Not the same as forced marriage.

Vinny's mother works long hours, so her father does much of the housework. He also emphasises the importance of education for his daughters. Geddit? Not all Asian families are traditional and patriarchal.

Abby's family, however, is. Abby is the new girl in school, quickly befriended by Vinny. Abby's father does not allow her to go to after-school clubs: her time, he says, would be better spent cooking, cleaning and looking after her younger siblings. Abby's older sister, Anna, has already been married off "abroad": the word "Pakistan" is never used.

So it is no surprise to Vinny, her family or, indeed, the reader, when Abby, too, is taken "abroad" during the summer holiday and does not return.

Cue various exposition-laden conversations. "You're thinking of last term's Inset day, aren't you?" the school head says to Abby's class teacher. "Yes, there was a speaker from Freedom Charity," the class teacher replies. "She said that schools can and should play a part in preventing forced marriage."

Presumably, Ms Prem's aim is not to create a work of great literary merit, but to raise awareness of the issue of forced marriage. And so Vinny is used as a conduit for her message: teenagers who think their friends might be forced into marriage should talk to parents, teachers and doctors. "The website I've just been looking at appears on screen," Vinny says at one point, "www.freedomcharity.org.uk."

The book ends with a list of warning signs to look out for, and steps that concerned teenagers can take.

Nonetheless, it feels overall like a wasted opportunity: forced marriage is an emotive subject, and a novel dealing with it could potentially resonate with teenagers long after they have finished the last page. But It's Not Fair contents itself with being simply useful.

contact@freedomcharity.org.uk

With every sale of "But It's Not Fair", two free copies will be sent to schools. All profits go to charity

But It's Not Fair is published by Prem Publishing at #163;6.99.

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