Allison's Book Bag

Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd

Posted on: December 5, 2014

Solace of the Road is the second novel I’ve read by Irish author, Siobhan Dowd. In telling the story of a foster kid, Dowd in many way ways treads on familiar ground. At the same time, Dowd has incorporated enough twists to make this a memorable story. She has also created an original character, for whom we deeply feel.

Fourteen-year-old Holly is in foster care. Daily she thinks of running away. Miles away in Ireland is her mom, the perfect guardian. Through no fault of either of them, the two got separated and now must find a way back to each other. For Holly, leaving foster care would mean saying goodbye to Miko. He works at the foster care home and is one of the only adults to care for her. For her mom, reuniting with Holly might mean giving up a loser boyfriend.

Because of other novels which I have read about foster care, it didn’t come as a surprise to me Holly was deluded about how perfect her mom was. I also knew that it was more than likely that one adult had tried to reach out to Holly since she landed in foster care and that Holly has been too badly hurt to accept them. In other words, other than the unfamiliar location of Ireland, the plot to a certain extent resembles other foster care books I’ve read.

On one hand, that doesn’t matter. For one thing, there aren’t exactly an abundance of stories on foster kids. For another thing, the commonality in plots simply means Solace of the Road should be a fairly accurate depiction of foster care. Indeed, Dowd did take a child rights training course and talk to many social workers in Oxford. On the other hand, for several chapters, Solace of the Road didn’t feel like anything new. Thus, for a while I wasn’t sure if it would feel memorable.

What I most appreciated is twofold. First, Holly is an original character in her own right. While at a temporary placement, Holly takes a liking to a blond wig. With it, she finds herself able to take on a new persona, one that is several years old than her. With it, she feels that she’ll come out smarter than the adults around her and her peers. Yet underneath it, she’s still a scared and vulnerable fourteen-year-old, who is really no different from those around her. Second, Dowd ultimately does break new ground, in that she actually has Holly hit the road. Holly doesn’t remained resigned to the foster care system, bounce from one foster home to another, or even try to stick it out with her placement. The road arguably may not have ended up being as dangerous for Holly as reality might be, yet it still felt real enough. Holly ended up hitching some rides, but she also got stuck outside at night in the elements. As for the rides offered her, some came from sympathetic drivers and others from creeps. Along her travels, Holly found herself forced to think about the choices she was making and what she really wanted from life.

Actually, there is a third aspect which I appreciate about Solace of the Road. As with every novel Dowd wrote, it’s well-crafted with emotional resonance. When Dowd died in 2007 of breast cancer, the literary world lost a bright talent.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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