Bonnier Carlsen, 2015.
Reviewed by Nichola Smalley in SBR 2015:2
Review Section: Fiction - Children's, YA and Crossover
Marketed as The Andersson House
There are certain themes that recur in young adult fiction. Not uncommonly, these reflect the concerns and traits of the projected readership. Protagonists are intelligent, bookish, maybe introverted or shy. Often they indulge at some point in the book in an act of rebellion, or have doubts about their identity or the value of the friendships they’ve taken for granted throughout their childhood.
The prevalence of these themes is no mystery – there has always been an element of pedagogy in writing for young people, which provides a space where consequences can be discussed or morals slipped into the twists and turns of a narrative. Equally, it should come as no surprise that literature can be a place for people of any age to explore identities, seek answers to complex questions and find echoes of their own experiences in those of the characters. So in some ways, Alex Haridi’s debut novel Huset mittemot is just one YA novel among many. It follows Joel, a studious, thoughtful thirteen-year-old who gets into trouble when he tries to solve a long-standing mystery. Joel lives opposite the house where thirteen- year-old Jonathan Andersson killed himself many years ago. The school playground has always been rife with stories. When his class is set an essay assignment, Joel decides he’s going to come top by uncovering the truth about Jonathan’s death. He gets into the house across the street, befriends the strange, haunted woman who still lives inside, and begins to unravel the mystery of Jonathan. In the process, he discovers a lot about his family, his town and himself, but his studies, and the rest of his life, suffer, and he alienates his mother, his sister and his best friend Kalle. In the end he has to acknowledge unpleasant things about himself in order to learn the real truth about who Jonathan was.
So far, so YA fiction: identity exploration, rebellion and a moral that teaches young people to value close friends and family and consider the consequences of their actions. But although Huset mittemot never quite frees itself from these clichés, it does sometimes manage to deflect them. The plot is deft and surprising, taking unexpected turns. Haridi grapples with tricky subjects such as mental illness and urban poverty from a child’s skewed perspective, showing the kinds of misconceptions that can occur in a child’s mind, but without passing judgement. Joel’s self-obsession is credible, recognisable even, and the depiction of the other characters’ strength in challenging this self- obsession is subtle and sensitive.
One really interesting thing about the novel is the way it plays with supernatural themes without the plot featuring any actual supernatural activity.The marketing blurb and design of the book, as well as the framing of the narrative itself suggests a ghost story, or at least some kind of funny business. But the banal reality that lies behind this framing is no less worthy of exploration. Indeed, it allows the author to delve deeper into the state of mind of his characters, something which in turn allows the reader to reflect on their own assumptions and preconceptions about madness, death and identity. And surely that’s a moral we can all benefit from.