Review: Outside by Sarah Ann Juckes

TW: mention of rape, child abuse and neglect

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb: Here’s the thing about being Inside. Ain’t no one believes that they are. Pretty stupid, as there are clues just about all over. Feed rattling down pipes from somewhere else. That dirty ol’ smell on Him when He barges in through the door. And the door. And Him.

The Inside is all Ele has ever known – until now.

Title: Outside

Author: Sarah Ann Juckes

Publisher: Penguin Books, part of Penguin Random House

Genre: Fiction, YA, Contemporary

Review:

All Ele has ever know is the Inside. Four stone walls, a trough for feed, a water tap and the world inside her head. And then there’s Him. The man who visits once a week with his scratchy beard, roaming hands and quick temper. One day Ele’s gathered all the proof she needs and she takes the chance to escape. But the Outside isn’t quite like the world she’s only seen in fairytales…

This book is pitched as Room (by Emma Donoghue) crossed with The Lovely Bones (by Alice Seebold) so I had high expectations! I will say it’s much more the former than the latter but I enjoyed it all the same. The first thing I want to praise is that this premise isn’t something I’ve really seen for a YA audience before (perhaps with the exception of The Bunker Diaries by Kevin Brooks which I have yet to read) and therefore particularly interested me. Straight away we’re introduced to Ele and her world, the Inside, where she’s been for as long as she can remember. Speaking of Ele, she’s a very interested character to read. The only knowledge of the outside world she has has come from the three books she has hidden in her room (an alphabet book, an encyclopedia of British trees and one of fairy tales) so her hopes of finding gingerbread houses and princes on white horses broke my heart. It’s almost impossible to tell how old she is as her development is so stunted but for me this only added to the hopelessness of her situation. Similarly, there’s not a huge amount of description of settings or the appearance of characters but once again, this only added to the impact of the story as it allows your imagination to run wild while also reminding you that Ele literally knows no different to her awful conditions so may not understand just how bad they are. In general, this book did a fantastic job of drawing me into a heart breaking story where all I wanted was to reach into the pages and help.

As for what I disliked, the only thing I’d say was that the big reveal at the end left me with more questions than it answered. Although we do find out a bit more about how Ele and Zeb ended up locked away in the first place, the explanations were all wrapped up in a few short paragraphs. There was still so much I wanted to know. Who was He really? How had he kept a whole family a secret? How had he built a whole building outfitted with feeding tubes and key card doors? Why there were so many empty rooms in the outbuilding? What were Ele and Zeb’s real names? How old were they? I’m not sure if the author left all this ambiguous on purpose to get your imagination working but finding out would have made this a more satisfying read for me. I’d also mention that this might not be the book for you if themes of child neglect, mention of rape and instances of assault trigger you. While they’re not particularly graphic or gory, it’s important that we take care of our mental health by being aware of possible triggers.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book to fans of Room by Emma Donoghue or anyone who’s looking for a dark YA contemporary read.

Rating: 4/5

Recommend?: Yes, if you’re ok with the subject matter


Have you read this book? Or maybe you’ve read something similar? What did you think? I’d love to know!

You can always find me over on Twitter if you’d like to discuss this book (or any others that I’ve featured) in more detail 😌

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