Author of 'The Worst Witch' series, book critic
Matheo is a golden boy. His family is wealthy and he wants for nothing. He goes to a prestigious private school. Oxbridge beckons. He is a champion diver and a hot prospect for the upcoming Olympics. He moves in the most desirable circles. And he has a beautiful, hot girlfriend in Lola. Most boys would give their eye teeth to be Matheo.
But appearances can be deceiving. At home, Matheo's life is barren. His mother is distant, cold even. His father is demanding and controlling, caring nothing for Matheo's happiness and only ambitious for his success. It's a far cry from Lola's warm and loving home with her single parent father. And more than this, there's the weekend in Brighton. Matheo doesn't know what happened. He blacked out. But he does know that it was terrible. He does know that if the truth ever comes out it will mean the end of everything. The end of diving. The end of university. And the end of things with Lola.
But is this a secret anyone could keep?
Wow. This book is so intense it almost hurts to read. I could barely breathe. Suzuma writes from Matheo's perspective and it's truly distressing to observe his deteriorating sense of self as he struggles to keep everything together. It has a genuine feel of Sylvia Plath's mental health classic 'The Bell Jar'. As much as Matheo struggles to keep a lid on things, he can't hide the fact that he's in crisis. Mostly, he just manages to push people away. And these are the people he needs: his mother, his friend Hugo, and above all, his girlfriend Lola.
All through the book, you know the crisis is unavoidable. You know that Matheo's secret will out, no matter how hard he tries, no matter what he does. And the tension is as much about when this will happen as it is about what exactly the terrible secret is. More, actually, as Suzuma lets out little bits of the event as the book goes on. And the end, when it comes, it's momentous - and shocking too, despite all the clues you've been given. I won't say more for fear of spoiling.
Hurt is not for the fainthearted but it is fantastic. And it's just what I've come to expect from Tabitha Suzuma, who writes beautifully and with great elegance, who can initiate volcanic emotional reactions in her readers, and who is not afraid to confront the most taboo of issues. It's a love story. It's a story about the terrible guilt that victims can feel. It's a warning about putting too much pressure on young people. And it's a devastating read - in every sense of the word.