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Istället för att bara skrika Elin Nilsson, Istället för att bara skrika (Instead of Just Screaming)

Alfabeta,  2011.

Reviewed by Kristina Sjögren in SBR 2012:2

Istället för att bara skrika is Elin Nilsson’s debut as a novelist. It is narrated by the 16-year old Andrea, who one day finds a threatening letter addressed to her mother, demanding that a very large sum of money be paid to someone who seems connected to her mysterious father, who died several years ago. Instead of handing the letter over to her mother, Andrea starts an investigation together with her older sister and her best and only friend, Molly. And so this novel becomes an interesting blend of social realism and crime fiction.

The secret investigation of the menacing letter is not really driven by a wish to protect the mother, with whom both sisters have a difficult relationship, but instead a wish to learn more about their father, who never took a significant enough place in their lives. He lived in America most of their childhood, only returning to die of cancer. Who was he? What had he done that forced him to go to America? Why does their mother refuse to speak about him? The novel bears witness to the lengths many children are prepared to go to seek out the information they need about their parents.

‘Instead of just screaming’ refers to learning to communicate with others and compromising instead of, just like an infant, screaming when you don’t get your own way. This is, of course, the hard-won teenage knowledge in a nutshell, and something both Andrea and her older sister struggle with throughout the book.

In my opinion the beautifully represented social realism with its very well depicted mood between the family members is the best aspect of this novel. The atmosphere in the dialogues, but perhaps especially in what is not said, is thick with unspoken resentment, boiling with teenage hormones and chilled by the way middle-aged lips remain tightly shut. But then I am an adult reader. The book is suitable for 12-15-year olds, and the crime story with its surprising closure will no doubt make their reading experience more exciting.

The language is colloquial and straightforward. It has its brilliant moments, such as this one:

Molly Persson, the only person I know who can go from death threats to Mud Cake in less than fifteen seconds. That’s why I like her.

And then:

Mud Cake is just like life; coherent, crispy and nice on the outside, but a big mess on the inside. This comes to me as a divine revelation while we tuck into our third portions.

But there is also some redundancy and needless chatter; the editor could have been stricter. There are passages where the dialogue is a bit slow and superfluous, parts where too little happens and a couple of ideas too many have been squeezed into the plot.

Istället för att bara skrika resembles Jacqueline Wilson’s works in that the poverty and social hardship forms an implicit but inescapable background to the story, at the same time as the text is humorous. Andrea is funny and revealing without being aware of it, much like Wilson’s narrators. Something I find refreshing is that there is no discussion of boys at all, which otherwise is all too common in novels about young girls: this book is a boy-free zone.

Like all debut novels this has its flaws, but these are minor and it is a worthy addition to the many excellent, groundbreaking youth novels being published in Sweden at the moment.

Other reviews by Kristina Sjögren

Other reviews in SBR 2012:2

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