Careless by Kirsty Capes

Carless is the story of fifteen-year-old Bess, who we first meet in a kebab shop, in Shepperton, with a positive pregnancy test in hand. Boy, the father is a nineteen-year-old Tesco’s worker who she meets when he crashes a stolen car into the side of a church before steeling her bike and fleeing. Bess is also in the UK care system. And even though she is in a long care placement, her relationship with her foster mum is on a rocky path. At the heart of this story is Bess’s journey navigating whether she herself is ready to care for someone. Kirsty Capes focus on bringing the care system into fiction, mixed with some British dry wit, and set amongst the back drop of 1999, make for an outstanding debut.

Narratives about children in care aren’t easy to come by, and it is likely the only other novel familiar to you is Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson. Capes is a care leaver herself, and has recently completed her PhD in female centric care narratives in contemporary fiction, supervised by the brilliant Bernardine Evaristo. Like Bess, Capes was also taken into the care system at the age of two in Shepperton where she had one short-term placement and then one long term, until leaving the care system at twenty-three. It is Capes’ hope that this book will challenge the stigma of being in care and help to dismantle the ideas portrayed in the media that a background in the care system is only used when needed to reason with an audience as to why a character is now a bad person. Capes in an interview with Grazia puts it perfectly ‘For me, it was just so important to tell this very human, very real story, and to be as truthful to that as possible. And to help people understand that people who have grown up in care are not defined by what happened to them.’

This is very much a coming of age story, not only for Bess, but for her best friend Eshal as her own story runs parallel to Bess’s in this novel. Their unconditional friendship is very much the heart-warming center of this story, and Eshal remains as Bess’s constant throughout in a novel littered with questionable adults.

Written through Bess’s eyes, this book easily evokes memories of teenage angst and first love. As it is told from the perspective of a fifteen year old it does make the writing easily digestible, but the contents do cover heavier topics such as female autonomy, post natal depression, consent, abortion, drugs and alcohol. That being said, this book almost feels like it could cross over into YA ficiton for an elder teen. I must add I think it’s strongly important that you always vet adult fiction yourself before passing it on, and never apply blanket rules as to what is appropriate for an age bracket. However, I am a big believer in books being a safe, non graphic way, for young adults to learn and there is the potential for this book to cover some topics that a young adult has already been confronted with.

And even though there may be a teen pregnancy central to this storyline, don’t mistake this book to be pushing any political agenda, from either side of the abortion debate. Instead it follows Bess as she makes the choice for herself. And at no point could I predict what choice she was going to make.

One thing is clear and that is that the care system is clearly broken, and not only in the UK, but here in Aotearoa as Oranga Tamariki continues to make regular head lines here. Which is exactly why we need authors like Capes, who through highlighting this in fiction is providing a narrative for these children to feel heard and seen. Even more positive is that Careless is now set to reach a wider audience as the TV/Film rights for this novel have already been sold.

Just incase you weren’t aware, I loved this book, and am grateful for every person who joined me in reading this July. And so you can now get on and hopefully read it yourself, I will end this review, but not without another quote from Capes given in an interview for “Care-experienced people are statistically more likely to die of unnatural causes like suicide, more likely to have mental health problems... There are statistical disadvantages you have just because you’ve been through the care system. But that narrative gets reinforced in TV and all kinds of media, and the only representation young children in care see of themselves is a very negative stereotype that gets reinforced again and again. It’s really important to have stories about the care experience that are positive.”

 Grab your copy here 


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