Lilla Piratförlaget, 2015.
Reviewed by Agnes Broomé in SBR 2016:1
Review Section: YA and Children's Fiction
Some books seem destined to be written over and over and over again, their storylines as well-worn as a favourite pair of pyjamas, the characters as familiar as the members of your own family. Som eld is one of these books. Any reader of young adult fiction will instantly recognise the trope: first love between an unlikely pair of protagonists, brought together by the summer holidays. The setting will be equally familiar: an island in Stockholm’s archipelago where the poorer long-term summer residents in their simple cabins coexist uneasily with the more recently arrived upper class families who come to spend a week or two in their multi-million-kronor villas before jetting off on holidays on the continent. It is here Anna and Louise tumble into each other’s lives with a crash. Anna is the only child of a semi-alcoholic but ostensibly warm and jovial single father, from a less-than-affluent suburb of the capital. Louise is the daughter of privilege, a resident of flush, conservative Östermalm, destined to study law, marry a man of impeccable pedigree and live the same way her stylish but neglectful parents do. If it seems from this description that Lövestam’s portrayal of the upper and lower classes of Stockholm could have benefited from a big helping of subtlety, that is no coincidence; the description of Louise’s family in particular occasionally tips over into caricatured cliché.
Anna’s and Louise’s meeting is the start of a romance powerful enough to draw the two together across the class divide. There is the first tingle of attraction, the slow discovery of a kindred soul that follows and then, inevitably, a crisis brought on by the socio-economic gap that yawns between the girls. Anna, though secure in her sexuality, is desperate to keep Louise far, far away from her down-at-heel father and their dilapidated shack of a summer house. Louise, in turn, is not ready to introduce Anna to her family, both because she is working class and because she is a girl. Before long, Louise’s insecurities have led her to deny and humiliate Anna, and the two go their separate ways, retreating into the safety of their respective worlds as the holidays draw to a close. The only question is if they are courageous enough to overcome the differences between them and reconnect once they have left the sheltered haven that was their island in the archipelago.
In her first foray into young adult fiction, Sara Lövestam has, somewhat inexplicably, chosen to work with a bland, run-of-the-mill story that offers nothing new to a genre acutely overpopulated with innumerable versions of more or less the same plot. This lack of imagination irks me; I have come to wonder whether young adult readers are considered unworthy of any real effort, or whether perhaps they are expected to be undiscerning enough to take whatever they are given and enjoy it. The only redeeming factor may be that Som eld takes a lesbian love story and allows it to be as completely ordinary, almost boringly mainstream, as a traditional boy-girl narrative.
The disappointingly mundane plot notwithstanding, Lövestam writes with a sure hand and manages to breathe life into an otherwise stale story. The tentative, yet inexorable scenes between Anna and Louise, in particular, are rendered with sympathy and a feeling for that magical, belly-flipping fizz of first love that will surely resonate with every reader. The cast is perhaps not quite as finely drawn and unique as I have come to expect of Lövestam, but Anna is certainly a compelling and convincing character, whose coltish physicality, dogged independence and unsentimental approach to life are refreshing.