Vera is seventeen. Beautiful and clever, everyone clamours to be her friend, although she remains aloof from those around her, opening up only to her boyfriend, Fang. Raised by her Russian mother in California, her semi-estranged father, Lucas, has been a part of her life for the last 6 years or so, and the weekend visits mean that the two aren’t particularly close.
When Vera has a terrifying psychotic episode at a party, she is diagnosed as bipolar. Lucas decides to take her away to Lithuania for the summer – the country where his grandmother was born – in an attempt to connect with his daughter, but also to distract her from the effects of her medication and the impact the diagnosis has had on her life.
But the trip reveals many things – why Lucas hasn’t played more of a part in Vera’s life, what really happened in his grandmother’s almost mythical escape from a concentration camp during the Second World War, and what really happened at the party that night.
The novel alternates between Lucas’s narrative and Vera’s emails to Fang, allowing the reader to see both points of view. Vera comes across as being extremely intelligent – perhaps more so than you’d would expect of a 17-year-old girl. She is someone who looks at the world differently to most people, and makes strangely brilliant and occasionally misguided logical connections. Yet there’s something endearing about her – however precocious she sounds, she also imparts a vulnerability that’s at odds with her words and actions. She has a tough outer shell, but both the reader and Lucas get to see her softer side as the trip progresses.
Lucas comes across as being almost childlike, despite being in his thirties. He and Katya, Vera’s mother, were teenagers themselves when they impulsively decided to have a child. They fell out shortly after Katya became pregnant, however, and so Lucas, despite his attempts to make amends, has had very little input into Vera’s life. Until now. Lucas’s soul is laid bare – and the reader sees his regrets regarding his absence, but also his fear that he won’t ever be able to connect with his strange, beautiful daughter.
Dear Fang, With Love explores some dark themes – mental illness, the Holocaust, the impact of absent parents and how difficult it can be to form connections after a period of absence. Yet Thorpe manages to keep the tone light without making light of the often difficult subject matter. It’s a beautiful, compassionate tale that both amuses and tugs at the heart strings.
Dear Fang, With Love will be published by Corsair in June 2016. Many thanks to Sarah Castleton for the review copy.