“Can she survive the city streets alone?”
- Book: Amber (Working Girls #4)
- Location: Manchester
- Author: Heather Burnside
I almost found myself reading this book, not as a work of fiction, but rather more like the script of a television documentary, which I thought might be almost as it was intended and would definitely be suited, especially given the current and very publicly focussed and sensitive nature of certain aspects of its storyline. Author, Heather Burnside makes no apology for the harsh reality of this storyline and reading her heartfelt letter published at the beginning of the book, offered an honest insight into her reasons for pursuing her chosen premise for the series, as she genuinely does not want her intentions to have been misinterpreted.
Amber joins The Mark, Ruby and Crystal, as the fourth in the series of ‘Working Girl’ books and I have to come clean and admit, that whilst I have taken part in Blog Tours for all three of the earlier books, I have yet to read any of them. I have a feeling that I have joined the series with arguably the most dramatic and traumatising of the four stories and definitely the one which will probably spark the most controversial debate and comment. Whilst part of a series which is linked by some common characters and places, Amber works just fine as a stand alone story, as the backstory and commonality is well enough explained as events unfold, making it easy to connect and engage with at all levels.
Multi-layered, well constructed and textured, but definitely not a story to escape into, or relax with, I could almost ‘feel’ the desperate passion and intensity of the gritty and honest writing. The need to encapsulate the distressing physical pain and suffering, together with the emotional angst and horrors, but with the minimum of wasted words and verbal embellishments, so that almost every syllable was made to count, had meaning, and needed to be read!
Although this is intrinsically a story about a way of life, it has at its core the tale of Amber and her journey, which eventually leads her down that dark and winding road to the depths of despair. Written with confidence and authenticity, rich in atmosphere and skilled in the imagery of words, the powerful and visually descriptive narrative and dialogue first drew me into Amber’s life when she was a young child of five. At this very impressionable time in her life, when she and her younger brother have already lost so much, the veneer of respectability and any other emotional stability they and their mother once had is cruelly taken away from them. As life becomes ever more intolerable, a vulnerable Amber never enjoys the protection, nurture, respect and love she and every other child has the right to expect from their parent, or indeed, any other adult. Wanting to stop reading, needing to get my hands on Amber’s mother, Loretta and beat her to a pulp, yet moved to continue with this profoundly touching and emotionally draining time in Amber’s life, I was a far from neutral observer and witness, to the total scheming and depravity which would bring about the eventual total destruction of her childhood, in the cruellest possible way, followed by the crude beginnings of a lifetime of emotional blackmail she is to endure, as she strives steadfastly and loyally until the very end, to win the mother’s love and affection she has always craved!
Circumstances and her mother’s malignant influence, continued to bear down on Amber’s teenage years, as she was unerringly forced down the dark road, deep into the unconventional, dysfunctional and altogether dangerous world of the ‘working girl’. Documented with compassion by the author, yet with an almost compelling need to shine a light on the daily traumas she faces, the tension is ratcheted up another notch, gripping and keeping me glued to the screen, as I watched an Amber filled with constant dread and fear, as her emotional vulnerability and the brooding shame of her exploitation is soon overshadowed by the menacing daily fight for her physical survival and the grabbing needs of her family for the monetary rewards she earns. In as much as their profession and competitive lifestyle allows, Amber makes a small core of ‘friends’ among the other girls, who whilst they will quite uncommittedly not interfere to save Amber from the odd beating, will warn her on the quiet of any impending trouble she needs to know about, which undoubtedly kept her out of harms way on more than one occasion.
The multi-faceted cast of well drawn and developed characters, were all so badly damaged, extremely vulnerable and emotionally complex, it made them very difficult to connect and engage with on any level. Although perhaps none of them should have been castigated by me for their way of life or their actions, as they were all so visibly under such hugely intolerable emotional pressures, it was so difficult not to pre-judge them and get hung up on their many transgressions.
Towards the end, there were a couple of really cleverly crafted, gasp out loud twists in the story, which I have to say I never saw coming. However that may have been that I was just so affected by the bigger picture, that I took my eye off the detail for a while. To say any more would give away ‘spoilers’, however ‘Like mother, like daughter’ might give you a clue to be going on with!
After a life spent searching for a sense of belonging and acceptance, there were one or two moments of unexpected respite for Amber over the years, when a few crumbs of kindness were thrown her way, compassion and comfort offered, often by the most unexpected of people. However, when she was at her lowest ebb, it was the value and kindness of a kindred spirit, who seeing through the facade of bravado and stoicism Amber has built into an invisible wall around herself, offers her a lifeline for a better future, should she choose to accept it – the rest is up to her!
This particular story ended on a relatively high note of optimism and hope, however for me, it was tempered and tinged with regret for those ‘working girls’, who still risk their lives on the streets of our towns and cities, often for reasons not of their own choosing and in circumstances not of their own making.
Heather has written this series of four ‘working girls’ books, specifically to highlight events which have brought each of the four girls to where they are today. I guess the real message of the books is:-
‘Don’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes!’