It’s not often that a book really breaks me. As you’d expect from a librarian, I read quite a lot and there are a great many books I enjoy. Some I even love. But there are very few that sweep me up so utterly and completely as One – leaving me feeling at the end as though I’ve left a piece of myself between the covers and wondering, “what the heck do I do with myself now?”
I must admit I did wonder how I would get on reading a novel that was all in verse. I had previously read and enjoyed books that contain both poetry and prose, such as Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere, and Apple and Rain, Sarah Crossan’s previous novel that was shortlisted for the Carnegie medal in 2015. But I wasn’t sure whether a full verse novel would be more difficult to engage with and if I would find myself getting distracted.
In reality it turned out to be quite the opposite. I found the verse format to be, quite literally, a breath of fresh air. The line breaks were perfectly placed and the short length of each poem meant that I kept finding myself thinking “I’ll just read the next bit before I put it down.” Next thing I knew it was one in the morning and there was no next bit because I’d finished the whole thing!
One is the story of conjoined twins Grace and Tippi who, after being home tutored all their lives are, at the age of sixteen, entering mainstream school for the first time. Understandably nervous, once there they are met with open curiosity, personal questions and insensitive comments from most of their classmates. It is Yasmeen and Jon, both of whom are also outsiders, that Tippi and Grace become immediate and firm friends with and the foursome are soon spending all their spare time together, grappling with everyday teenage issues such as friendship, family and love.
Indeed, for much of the novel, it is the normality of the girls that is the most striking – the fact that, despite sharing the same body and all the issues this entails, Tippi and Grace are just regular teenage girls inside. The fact that the narrative is all told by Grace in the first person further reinforces the fact that they are two separate people, with the their own feelings, needs and desires.
At home, things are not too easy for Tippi and Grace. Their father has a problem with alcohol and the family are facing serious money problems. Faced with the prospect of their home being sold, meaning they’d have to move to a cheaper neighbourhood away from their new-found friends, Tippi and Grace decide to use their togetherness to their (financial) advantage and agree to be filmed for a TV documentary. Shortly after filming starts their health takes a serious turn for the worse, leaving them with a heart-breaking decision to make.
I don’t like it when reviews have spoilers so I’ll not give away any more. All I will say is that this is a glorious book, one of the most beautifully written I’ve ever read. If you haven’t already, please pick up a copy and read it.