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Solace of the Road

Review

Solace of the Road

Fifteen-year-old Holly Hogan bides her time in yet another foster home before running away again. With her silvery-blonde wig, she is transformed into the fierce and fearless Solace, bound for the green hills of Ireland to find her Mam. In what will regrettably be Siobhan Dowd’s last novel, her superb story forces you to relive the dreams and horrors of the girl’s life. 

Ray and Fiona Aldridge, Holly’s foster parents, were a joke. Holly’s key worker, Miko, seemed to think they were good people, but she’s just not comfortable around them. It should have been a foregone conclusion that she’d run. They’re too squeaky clean and formal, a far cry from the kind of people she’d have picked. Fiona has a crooked bob and a fancy mantle clock, and Ray trims the hedges. They don’t smoke, so Holly has to sneak up to her bedroom to smoke in secret. Their house is fancy, all wood…“posh and phony,” as Holly calls it. Fiona wants to take her shopping and for Holly to use coasters (of all things!). Her foster mom couldn’t have kids of her own, so it seems Holly is now her pet project. Ray barely even speaks to her. It all makes Holly feel out of her element --- it’s like they want someone else but not the real her.

But while they are strange people, there is one thing that’s incredible about the Aldridges: Fiona’s wig. It’s a silvery-blonde kind of magic that adds three years to Holly’s age. With it on, she’s not Holly anymore --- she’s suave, dangerous and determined. She becomes Solace, the name of Mam’s winning horse in a race. And Solace is hitting the road, not staying here another minute. She’s off to find Mam in Ireland where they lived before. So with just a little money and a few things stashed in her lizard purse, Holly/Solace walks out the door.

On foot, Holly walks as Solace toward the A40. It’s the road to freedom, she says, to Ireland, to Mam. She stops first at a glamour store for a slinky dress and heels. And while the cashier is chatting away, she stuffs the dress in her purse: Easy. The shoes she knicks even easier; while pretending to look at something else, she just heads out the door. Now Solace is glamorous, beautiful, sleek and gorgeous. Ahead of her waits a new place every day: a bus ride, a dance club, a museum, a coffee shop. But always she runs back to the road.

Holly walks for miles and miles and then she hitches. And all the way, she’s scared stiff. Those heels she knicked are now blistering and slicing her feet to pieces. When it rains, the slinky dress sticks to her and freezes. There are times when cars seem to follow her and frightening men hover near. When she thumbs it, all she can think of is what truckers want with her. She’s only ever hoping she’ll get by without getting hurt. But Solace is different --- fearless and ready, she points Holly back down the road.

Gotta find somewhere to hole up. Homeless people wrap themselves up in cardboard and curl up under bridges and pee against the walls like dogs. I didn’t fancy it. I thought of better places. I made a list in my head.

Churches

Cinemas

Sheds

Houses where curtains aren’t drawn, showing how the owners are on holiday

Churches get locked up at night, like the one I’d tried earlier. Cinemas chuck you out after the last show. Sheds are good but you have to break into them. Same goes for houses where the people are gone. Knowing my luck I’d get caught breaking in by the people at the wrong time.”

Holly runs into a few good souls who help her, and in her desperation, they seem to be her guardian angels. But the road gets harder and harder every day. She’s “cash-free,” completely alone and frantic. And there’s always the question of what she’ll find if and when she gets there --- that’s the one thing Holly won't let herself consider.

Reading SOLACE OF THE ROAD has left me absolutely speechless --- it’s one book I know I will remember. What an incredibly thoughtful, compassionate, beautifully written story of a young girl’s heartache. It saddens me to have to say goodbye to such a commendable writer. To witness the full power of Siobhan Dowd's writing, you must experience it for yourself, from beginning to end. There is beauty in the story, yet her writing goes much, much deeper than that. Her work has the hallmarks of a literary genius.

I urge you to go out and buy SOLACE OF THE ROAD. All proceeds go to Dowd's charity, which supports reading for disadvantaged kids.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on October 13, 2009

Solace of the Road
by Siobhan Dowd

  • Publication Date: April 5, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: David Fickling Books
  • ISBN-10: 0375861246
  • ISBN-13: 9780375861246