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Becoming Dinah by Kit de Waal - Review

Tuesday, April 7, 2020


Where did I get it? The library, it was the third of the three Carnegie longlist books I reserved at the library before the country went into lockdown. God knows when I'll be able to take it back to the library, but I would rather that than library staff be put in danger because libraries remain open. It's better they're closed. 

What's it about? At the beginning of the book we meet Dinah, about to shave off her long black hair. She's about to run away from the commune where she lives with her mum. She's got a bit of money saved, and she's feeling distraught over something that happened between her and her friend Queenie. 

However, Ahab, who is the kind of leader of the commune, needs her help before she can make her getaway. Someone has stolen a white VW campervan from him, which has inside it his prosthetic leg, and he wants both back. He persuades Dinah to drive him in another van, The Pequod, even though she can't officially drive yet. Ahab is grumpy, angry, and bad-tempered, but he offers Dinah £400 for her troubles. So the two set off south from somewhere around Newcastle, and throughout the book the reader gets to know all about Dinah's past.

We learn about her parents, her dad, her kind of brother Jonah, why her parents split up, why Dinah first went to school, what happened with Queenie, how Dinah describes her sexuality, what happened to Ahab's leg, why he's so angry, and why Dinah decides to get him to call her Ishmael.

I didn't realise until I finished it that it is a version of Moby Dick, kinda. I thought the names were all just biblical references at first, but Kit notes at the back of the book that it is a modern retelling of Moby Dick with women in. I thought it was really cleverly done and I enjoyed picking up on bits from Moby Dick. 

What age range is it for? Usually, I'd say only a couple of years younger than the main character, and Dinah is seventeen, but the book on a whole skews a bit younger I think. Maybe it's because it's quite short. It's not that I don't think older teens would enjoy it, because I think they absolutely would, but I think any teen from 13 years up could read and enjoy it. Although there are quite sophisticated themes involved, they're told in very safe and accessible ways, which I really liked. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, Dinah. And some others, too... 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Dinah is mixed race. Her dad is from Benin and her mum is white. There's a lot about it, which I liked. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Ahab is physically disabled, having lost one leg below the knee. He probably has some trauma related stuff going on too. I don't think Dinah does, per se, but she's been through some stuff. 

Is there any sex stuff? No not at all. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Painkillers, I think, but that's all. 

Is there any talk of death? No, but there's some graphic injury stuff, it's not too bad though. 

Are there swear words? No, very few (which is one of the reasons why I think it skews a bit younger)

What criticisms do I have? Almost none, although I would have liked the ending to have been expanded a little bit more. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I'm still trying to make my way through the Carnegie longlist. I've got a couple more on their way to me, I ordered them from Round Table Books before they closed for the foreseeable. I can reserve some more at the library when it's open again... 

What do I think of the cover? It's cute, isn't it? I love the bright yellow colour. Plus it shows Dinah cutting all her hair off at the beginning. 

What other books is it like? It has similar themes to After the Fire by Will Hill, as that's about a cult who live in a commune, although this is much less intense than that. 

How many stars? Four out of five. 

Where is the book going now? Back to the library, when it can... 

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