The School Gate Survival Guide by Kerry Fisher

Maia Etxeleku is living on a run-down estate with her lazy partner, Colin, and her two children, Bronte and Harley. Maia supports her family by holding down several cleaning jobs, and as the story starts she is mourning the death of one of her clients, not just because she has lost one of her jobs, but because the old lady urged her to get an education and was interested in her as a person, taking the time to meet her children, teaching them and encouraging them to read. With a partner like Colin, who has no interest in finding a job, Maia can’t afford to apply for the Open University course that she desperately wants to take, and sees little chance of a better future for her children. When she discovers the old lady has left a sum of money for her in her will, to be used exclusively for school fees for Harley and Bronte, Maia wonders if she can afford to take the offer. After all, school fees are one thing, but what about the unifoms, the music lessons, the expensive school trips? But realising that this will be the best and possibly only chance the children get of a decent future, Maia takes the risk and enrols them at posh Stirling Hall School, a decision that will bring profound changes for her entire family, and for Maia most of all.
I absolutely loved this book. The characters were fantastically drawn. Maia is lovely, trying so hard to do the right thing for everyone and putting herself last at every turn, but somehow finding the strength to go against the wishes and advice of those around her who want her to stay in her box, be the person she’s always been. It takes courage to stand up to Colin, who is appalled at idea of sending his kids to private school, convinced it will give them delusions of grandeur. It would be easy to view Colin almost as a caricature as he’s so awful, but then the author cleverly gives him some redeeming qualities that just prevent this. He’s never going to be likeable, but the fact that he’s so devastated and afraid when something truly scary occurs makes the reader see that he’s not all bad. Just ninety-nine per cent!
Sandy, the neighbour, is truly appalling. I sussed her from the start and hated the way she kept undermining Maia, being unsupportive and sarcastic and turning against her because she wanted a better life for her children.
I loved Bronte and Harley. They were masterfully written. Bronte, all buttoned-up and angry, insecure and embarrassed, and Harley, who is just adorable. His determination to make the best of things and his loyalty to his mum was enough to reduce this reader to tears. I really, really wanted those children to have a better life and was praying things would turn out for them.
Mr Peters is a real hero. I could quite see the attraction there and found his determination to support Maia, and to help Bronte and Harley reach their capabilties wonderful, so it didn’t surprise me when he revealed his own secret.
Clover is another marvellous character. She’s the one who proves that having money doesn’t have to make you a bad person. Her total, unconditional acceptance of Maia and the way she champions and includes Bronte and Harley won me over immediately. I wanted Clover to be happy and I like the way her storyline unfolded.
Even the haughty Jen1 (great name!) is an interesting character, because she’s snobbish, vain and cruel, but the writer cleverly give us an insight into the reasons for this, the insecurities that lie behind the obnoxious behaviour. It doen’t make her any more likeable but it does make it easier to understand why she behaves the way she does.
Kerry is very good at creating characters that aren’t all black or white, which makes them much more realistic and interesting to read about.

This book is really easy to read and so funny, it’s difficult to put down. I zipped through it in a day and I really can’t wait to read what the author has in store for us next. Excellent! 5/5

Buy it here

The School Gate Survival Guide

The School Gate

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