Rabén & Sjögren, 2009.
Reviewed by Helena Forsås-Scott in SBR 2014:1
Review Section: Fiction for Young Adults
Reviewed with Svag is and Mörkt svek
Ewa Christina Johansson’s and Kristina Sjögren’s trilogy aimed at young teenagers tackles some important and difficult topics. Sista resan deals with trafficking, as girls from Eastern Europe are brought to Sweden to be exploited in the sex industry, while Mörkt svek explores the effects of the objectification of the sexualised female body, including kidnapping, rape, and murder. Svag is, about connections between dog-fighting and organised crime, lacks some of the feminist commitment of the other two volumes, although issues of gender remain prominent.
At the centre of all three novels is Siri, aged sixteen in the first volume and nineteen in the last. Talented and intrepid, she is driven by a strong sense of justice and responsibility for her fellow human beings. Well aware of the need to plan carefully for the rest of her education and her career – and frequently reminded to do so by her mother who has young twins and is stuck in a humdrum job – Siri has wide-ranging interests to provide her with insights into many aspects of contemporary Swedish society.
In Sista resan she spends much of her spare time at a small aerodrome and is saving up to learn to fly. In Svag isshe has instead used her savings on a motorbike, and her new mobility is a prerequisite for her continuing work as an amateur detective in both this and the subsequent volume.
According to the publisher’s website, the books are aimed at 12-15-year-olds and in this respect they are not very different from the most famous works in Swedish literature about a young amateur detective, Astrid Lindgren’s three books about Kalle Blomkvist (1946-1953). When the first of Lindgren’s volumes was launched, the general public in Sweden was still getting used to her revolutionary Pippi Långstrump (Pippi Longstocking), published the previous year and introducing as the central character a girl living on her own and doing exactly as she pleases. In the Kalle Blomkvist books, the character of Eva-Lotta, who plays with the boys and is as resourceful and brave as any of them, was another example of an atypical female figure, at least at the time of publication. The novels by Johansson and Sjögren allude to Lindgren’s trilogy: the most striking example probably being Siri’s main contact in the local police force, Superintendent Björk, who has the same surname as the police constable in the books about Eva-Lotta and her friends. But Johansson’s and Sjögren’s Björk spends much of the second volume being pregnant; as she advances in her career, she becomes an increasingly important role model for Siri.
Clara, Siri’s friend, also turns out to be resourceful: initially seemingly self-centred and preoccupied with her appearance, she shows herself to be fiercely loyal, bold and decisive in a crisis. Boyfriends, too, of course become part of the plots of these novels, and in common with the other central characters they are skilfully individualised and convincing. The characters are integrated into a slice of contemporary Sweden brought to life by a wealth of precisely observed details, which help underpin the urgency of the plots. While Kalle Blomkvist and his friends encountered criminal acts essentially belonging to the world of adults, the crimes explored by Johansson and Sjögren are largely directed against teenagers themselves, and especially against teenage girls. Very well written and with plots that twist and turn unexpectedly, the books about Siri, her family and friends provide both exciting reading and critical perspectives on key problems in society today.