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The Crossing

Authored by Manjeet Mann
Published by Penguin Random House Children's UK

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The Crossing is a contemporary novel told from the dual perspectives of Eritrean refugee Sammy and recently bereaved Natalie from Dover, two teenagers whose worlds have been irrevocably changed by circumstances beyond their control, resulting in gruelling personal journeys that bring them to different sides of the English Channel with the same aim: to get to the other side.

Natalie, her father and her older brother are reeling from the death of her mother, a refugee support worker who has recently passed away as the result of cancer. In order to reconnect with her memory, Natalie takes up her mother’s challenge of preparing to swim the Channel to raise money to support a refugee charity, though her decision does not please everyone in a time of heightened racial and political tension. At the same time, Sammy and his best friend Tesfay must leave everything they know if they are to escape the political situation in Eritrea that has already killed Sammy’s father and taken away his sister. As Sammy faces increasingly dangerous physical challenges that test his resilience and even his humanity, Natalie comes to realise that there are no bystanders in social activism, and that inaction, no matter how well-meaning, allows injustice to go unpunished. In order to live in a way that is true to their convictions, both Sammy and Natalie must make decisions that have heart breaking consequences but also provide hope for themselves and for others.

Written entirely in free verse, each story unfolds in tandem from the characters’ point of view as streams of consciousness, moving from Natalie to Sammy in a way that increasingly connects the two narratives. Different typeface helps the reader to differentiate between the two voices, which is useful particularly where they mirror each other’s speech. There are flashbacks and dialogue with others, but only as experienced by the two main characters; as a result, the language is largely informal and written to reflect teenage speech patterns, including mild swearing. There are irregular sections rather than chapters, titled with the number of days left until or since the Channel crossing: this helps to emphasise that events for both characters are happening concurrently.

The Crossing does not shy away from difficult and challenging issues. There are many demanding themes addressed throughout, such as death, killing, assault, refugees, trafficking, kidnap, bullying, racism and white saviourism, politics and radicalisation; there are also more general, more positive themes such as family, friendship, hope and activism. LGBT+ representation is present in Natalie’s relationship with her girlfriend Mel, which also contributes to the theme of social class. Water is significant at various points in the story, both for the healing power and destructive nature.

Due to the challenging themes and unusual structure, this is a book best suited to more mature readers aged 13+. With more than one reader, it could be read aloud and would work as a class novel or guided reading text to enable deeper analysis. This is a novel designed to challenge and provoke thought and readers’ experience would definitely be enhanced by the opportunity to discuss their response in detail.