Sal by Mick Kitson

In Sal, Kitson has captured a curious quality of teenagerhood.

Book Review by Galen O'Hanlon | 02 Mar 2018
  • Sal by Mick Kitson
Book title: Sal
Author: Mick Kitson

Sal and Peppa, two sisters aged thirteen and ten, run away and survive in the Scottish wilderness. Sal's ready for this because she's watched lots of Bear Grylls on YouTube and she's read the SAS Survival Handbook and she's bought the stuff they need on Amazon using the stolen cards her stepdad brings home and leaves around the flat. They're fleeing a bleak home situation of alcoholism, neglect, and abuse – but their worst fear is being 'took and split up'.

Sal's voice is immediately gripping, full of the patter of an excited child: she tells us about Gore-Tex, pike teeth, and how to snare a rabbit. She reels off great lists of things she can do that she's watched online, and in the next breath reveals, in the same matter of fact tone, the horrors of living with an alcoholic mother and a paedophile stepdad. Sal's resourceful and confident one moment, anxious and powerless the next. In Sal, Kitson has captured a curious quality of teenagerhood: the transitional state of being at once quite grown up and still very young.

This is an astonishing debut from Kitson, who's only lately turned to writing novels: he was one half of 80's pop band The Senators, and then a journalist, then he moved to Fife to be an English teacher. Sal sits somewhere between Huckleberry Finn and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, with a glint and charm all of its own.

Canongate, 1 Mar, £12.99 https://canongate.co.uk/books/2436-sal/