To Keep You Safe by Kate Bradley: Emotionally harrowing, page-turningly compulsive, and graphically, viscerally real - book review -

To Keep You Safe
To Keep You Safe

When you’re a teacher, how far should you go to protect a pupil who is in danger?

When you’re a teacher, how far should you go to protect a pupil who is in danger?

This moral conundrum lies at the heart of a hard-hitting and gripping debut novel from an exciting author whose career has taken her into the real lives of those at the margins of society.

After working in prisons, mental health hospitals, and alongside the homeless, Kate Bradley has used both her experience and writing skills on this torrid tale of a mentally scarred teacher determined to save a damaged teenage girl from those who seek to use and abuse her.

But this extraordinarily tense and addictive story is not what it first appears as readers are constantly bamboozled and sidetracked by the gobsmacking twists and turns of a high-octane plot and two fascinating and unreliable narrators.

When 40-year-old maths teacher Jenni Wales sees 15-year-old pupil Destiny Mills’ black eye and cut face, she is immediately worried about her safety. The school knows that Destiny is vulnerable… she lives in a children’s home, is unsuitable for foster care because of her behaviour, and rarely turns up for class.

But that isn’t the only reason why Destiny isn’t your average student. She’s smart and has a genius IQ, and could really make something of her life, given the chance.

Jenni, who is a keen Ironman triathlete and spent years in the army until she left under a shadow, finds emotional communication difficult because of a condition called alexithymia. It leaves her unable to ‘read’ people, rather like ‘being dropped into an unknown land where everyone else had a map, and I did not.’

But she does recognise the ‘unadulterated fear’ experienced by Destiny when the teenager takes a call on her mobile phone, and when Jenni witnesses an attempt by two men to abduct her from school, she must make a decision – and make it quickly – because the staff at the school are not taking the threat seriously.

Jenni doesn’t know who the men are and why they are hunting Destiny but she knows the girl is in danger and, always one for a challenge, she does the only thing she can think of to keep Destiny safe… she takes her. It’s a decision that will change not just her life, but the lives of those around her.

There are thrills, chills and spills to relish in this clever, compelling debut which delivers shocks at every turn and a plot that moves rapidly from the normality of a school classroom to the murky corners of a brutal criminal underworld.

As the lost teenager and the mentally fragile Jenni embark on a terrifying journey, readers must try to work out who is telling the truth, and who is in most need of rescue. Along the way, Bradley explores some gritty and sensitive issues, and poses serious questions about how far experiences outside of our control shape who we are and how we lead our lives.

Emotionally harrowing, page-turningly compulsive, and graphically, viscerally real, To Keep You Safe is a powerful opener from an intriguing new voice in suspense fiction.

(Zaffre, paperback, £8.99)