'Where I Belong' is quite a unique novel written by Gillian Cross (also author of 'Wolf'). The story centres around a Somalian girl called Khadija - or at least that's what she is called when she is sent from Somalia to London by her family, in the hope that she can find a better life for herself, and send aid back home.
Whilst Khadija is the central character, there are three main voices/narrators in this book. The first is that of Khadija's. The second voice belongs to Abdi, a British Somalian boy that lives in London, and forms part of the 'family' that Khadija is to stay with. The third voice is that of Freya, the daughter of a top fashion designing mother. How these three characters come together is really interesting; Khadija and Abdi's connection I have already touched upon as Khadija has to pretend to be Abdi's sister in order to get in to the UK. It is really quite sad in terms of the manner in which she is forced by her family to go to the UK. Leaving them is not what she wants to do, but she is not actually given a choice and is in fact tricked into coming to London. She is just a young teenage girl, but we see her grow up very quickly as she realises that if her family are to have a better life, she needs to go to London and try and earn money and make something of herself, for their sake and her own.
How Freya and Khadija come to be connected is what really makes the story however. Freya's mother, Sandy is a big time and hugely successful fashion designer, and whilst designing her next collection has a genius flash of inspiration from the unseemingly fashionable world of Islamic burkas. Once the idea of doing a catwalk show based on the burka takes her, she becomes hypnotised with the idea of finding the perfect model, and this is when she spots Khadija. Being a big time model could be exactly what Khadija needs if she is to make a difference to her family that she has left in Somalia, but things get massively complicated soon after she agrees to be Sandy's model.
So, from the storyline you can see that this book provided quite a unique read and it was refreshing to read something with a unique storyline. I also liked the fact that it was London-based (with some parts set in Somalia too) as I have recently tired of the large number of US-based books I have read lately. I do quite like it when a book talks of places I am familiar with or have actually been to myself!
I think that Gillian Cross was quite brave for writing this book. The story not only deals with Somali people, their culture, their country and their ways but it also discusses the use of the burka and in this sensitive day and age where we are all trying to say and do the right thing without offending anyone I do think it could have gone horribly wrong. But I don't think it did at all, and although I am not a burka wearer, I cannot see how Gillian Cross might have offended anyone. In fact, what she does is beautify the burka and present it as an item of beauty and mystery.
I liked the way that the story had three different narrators. I think that as a writer this must be something quite difficult to do in terms of really capturing your audience and keeping them there. But the style of writing was such that it was never really difficult to follow, in spite of which character was speaking. This was done very well in fact, with each character still managing to have their own distinct personality.
I would happily recommend this book to most fiction lovers. It probably is more one for female readers than male readers if I am honest, but that didn't make it any less appealing to me (probably because I am female!).
I borrowed this for free from my local library but you can buy it online from Amazon for £4.61 (new).
Thanks for reading!