“Normal is the Holy Grail and only those without it know its value.”
It’s been a long time since I read a book that I thought could be easily described in one word. Beautiful. This book epitomises beautiful. The narrative is beautiful. Grace’s perspective of the world is beautiful. Even the way social conventions and ideas about normalcy are deconstructed and analysed is beautiful.
The story follows Grace and Tippi, conjoined twins who are just about to go to high school for the first time. Having been home schooled all their lives, high school is an unwanted intrusion. But when they find two good friends in Jon and Yasmeen, school seems a little less scary. They begin to see how they might like learning in this new social environment. Yet, just as they think they could get used to this new world, a tragedy strikes that will rock the core of their relationship.
We see the world from Grace’s perspective and her innermost thoughts on being conjoined give fascinating insight into what it truly means to be ‘different’. The way she describes feeling fuller and more wholesome because of Tippi shows us the true depth of familial love. While everyone else views their predicament as a curse, Grace views it as a blessing demonstrating her alternative and pure outlook on life.
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t read enough books about disabled characters, but of those I have, I can’t recall any books with protagonist like Grace. Her world is both complex and innocent, and although she is wary of the judgement of other people, she finds contentment in some of the smallest of life’s pleasures. Her joys and struggles of being conjoined are described with such a breathtaking and open honesty that I couldn’t help but connect with her deeply.
The book handles issues of disability and eating disorders with sensitivity and tact, examining each one with care and never overstepping the mark. It’s easy to tell that a lot of research went into this novel, and I think more books could take a leaf out of One by including characters of differing physical disabilities. That’s by no means to say that mental disabilities aren’t important, or that there aren’t other YA novels out there with excellent portrayals of physically disabled characters (All the Light We Cannot See, Magonia, Song of Summer, Everything Everything), but I think the genre as a whole could benefit from having a more diverse range of disabled characters with which disabled readers can identify.
The plot of One is told with a delicacy that offsets some of the hardships of Grace and Tippi’s lives. It’s written in free verse, which one of the novel’s most unique features and one I really liked; it’s easy to see why the novel won the CILIP Carnegie medal earlier this year. This stylistic choice does make it a very quick read (I finished it within a day), but it certainly doesn’t detract from the levels of involvement and empathy the reader can feel toward the characters.
At its heart, this story is a tale of the transience and instability of life. It shows us the harsh reality of societal judgement and makes us question why people are constantly preoccupied with physical appearance. The book has moments that are heart-breaking, but it was also incredibly life-affirming. I’ll definitely be reading more of Sarah Crossan’s work if it’s as thought-provoking as One.