Book Review – This Can Never Not Be Real by Sera Milano

First published, 2021

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The story follows teenagers – Peaches, Joe, Ellie, Violet and March – as they give witness statements to an inquest into a terrorist incident. Celebrating Ambereve, a local tradition in their small town – complete with music, dancing, fireworks and a bonfire – in the grounds of a stately home, no one knows what’s happening until the first of the gunshots rings out.

What follows is the mad scramble of bodies trying to escape from armed persons unknown. No one has any idea how many attackers there are or why they’ve targeted the youngsters and their festival. All the while, the kids are doing what they can to locate their friends and family and find a hiding place, in the dark, in a mess of panic and broken glass.

Told in the style of police reports, with each character speaking about what they saw and the story being taken up by the next in turn, I was utterly gripped from start to finish.

I’ll say this, too: in the beginning, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get to know the characters all that well. Because they just have their name and then start talking, I thought there’d be very little in terms of descriptions and thus, I wouldn’t recognise their voices, their personalities, and so on. I was so wrong. I knew who was talking within a dozen pages. It takes an incredible storyteller to convey a complete character within a few paragraphs – which one has been bullied, which one is a princess, which one makes everyone nervous and so forth – to do all that and so quickly, floored me.

Of course, the subject matter will be difficult for some readers. Some of the descriptions are pretty unflinching in the face of bullet wounds, major trauma, blood, panic and the absence of reason. That said, there was real heart in the writing, there were unexpected moments of humour, and there was a point towards the end where I was actually in tears.