The Opposite of Chocolate

The Opposite of Chocolate

‘A poignant and sensitive novel that raises important issues.... her writing has a mystical quality. Tense and dramatic.’The Bookseller

A BLACKWELL’S BOOK OF THE MONTH.

SHORTLISTED FOR THE BOOKTRUST TEENAGE FICTION PRIZE

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It was a weird, tinderbox summer even before the fires began.

What is the opposite of chocolate? Chocolate is one of the best things in life (definitely). So the opposite of chocolate is....the worst.

Life is risking.

You can’t get pregnant on a boat? If you are standing on a telephone directory or keep your eyes closed? If you take folic acid vitamins or drink lots of milk or alcohol? Coca cola is as good a contraceptive as the morning after pill? Actually, none of that is true. But a recent survey by Doctor magazine found that a worrying number of teenagers believed these and many other false pregnancy myths

She’d followed the flow of her body, did as it urged, ignoring the voice at the back of her mind that said stop.

Did you know that the UK has the most teenage pregnancies in the developed world? Dundee and Swindon have the highest rates in the UK. Glasgow now has a ‘pregnancy tsar’ to combat the problem and teenagers in Glasgow can text questions on sexual matters and receive advice by mobile phone. But why is it such a problem? A survey by teen magazine J-17 found that almost 70% of respondents thought sex education in schools was not good enough, 20% thought it no help at all and 75% said they wanted more information earlier.

What clues, thought Sapphire, had any of the adults, the gatekeepers to the world, ever given her about anything that mattered?

Although over 90% of 15s who get pregnant make the difficult choice to have an abortion, only one Young Adult book in the UK, The Opposite of Chocolate explores this.

Termination. She’d heard the word. It meant the end of something, like the last stop on the bus.

Is a novel about teen pregnancy just for girls? Are boys not interested in what goes on in a girl’s mind and body?

The scent of smoke was all about him. She breathed it in and a delicate fire spread under her skin.

The Opposite of Chocolate is an atmospheric, exciting story about a girl whose life becomes a battleground - and a boy who lives on the edge.

Here’s a taster, followed by some reviews......

At dusk, she heard the sirens. Then, after an agony of waiting, the crash into the undergrowth that she’d been hoping for. She pushed through the bushes and branches towards the place of the crash.

He was slumped against the wall, next to the chestnut trees, panting.

When he saw her, he sat bolt upright, soaked in sweat.

‘It’s only me,’ whispered Sapphire and he relaxed.

Then leaned forward, tense again, when she told him what she wanted.

‘Why?’ he asked.

Sapphire hesitated. She didn’t know why. The impulse had burst upon her during the long wait for him in the trees. She leaned forward too.

‘I feel so bad I want to die,’ she confessed. ‘But I don’t know how to die. I don’t know how I’d do it.’

Up on the tower she had tried to imagine the ways - hurling herself off the tower, razoring her wrist, swallowing handfuls of pills, holding her head under bathwater, standing in the path of a speeding car. Jumping into a river or reservoir wasn’t an option. The water levels were too low. But she knew she’d never do any of them. They were all too painful, violent or uncertain in outcome.

She didn’t want to hurt herself. She was frightened of pain and blood. She just wanted to escape the mess she was in, have her life back and feel safe again in her own skin.

‘So I need to do something,’ she explained to the boy, ‘and I thought of you.’

The outside world had gone quiet, now the sirens had stopped.

‘Me?’ he said.

His eyes were as deep and still as the dusk shadows around them.

‘Please,’ said Sapphire.

Gilbert only looked at her. He had such a confusion of feeling he didn’t know what else to do.

‘Can - can you run?’ he finally asked.

She smiled. ‘I can run.’

He smiled back, nervously. The scent of smoke was all about him. She breathed it in and a delicate fire spread under her skin.

‘I know a house out on the edges of Hungry,’ she said. ‘It’s got a pagoda in the garden.’

‘What’s that?’ He looked down, embarrassed that he didn’t know. Then laughed at himself.

‘It’s an oriental garden room.’ Sapphire laughed too. ‘A kind of summer house with a stupid name.’

Gilbert nodded, eyes shining as he recognised the description. He had seen it, had thought about it as a target, but hadn’t known that’s what it was called.

‘It’s made of wood,’ said Sapphire.

He knew. His brow wrinkled in thought.

‘Can you remember the exact garden?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said Sapphire.

Gilbert got up and walked over to a huge beech tree with a deep nook in its thick trunk, reached in and took out a black plastic bin bag. He rummaged inside and brought out a can of petrol. It glugged as he set it down on the ground beside her.

Sapphire’s heartbeat quickened. Could she really do this? Would she? Unsure and trembly with excitement, she picked up the can. It gave another thick glug. She liked the sound.

She looked at the boy.

‘What’s your name?’ she asked.

She’d seen him at school, she was sure. He was a year or two older so it was strange she didn’t know his name because she was well aware of who most of the older boys were. What had made her overlook him? He had a gaze you could fall into if you looked long enough. But there was a stillness there so deep and intense that most people would look away. And that stillness was part of what made him unnoticable, she guessed. He wouldn’t be part of the crowd; he’d be out on the edges, someone in the background that never came within her line of vision because she had been focussed on those at the centre of things.

Gilbert knew that too. He didn’t stop to think about whether he trusted her or not, about whether it was a good idea to get any closer to this girl, who knew his dangerous secret. Sapphire Dean had rooted so instantly and deeply in his imagination that he felt as if he knew her, even though he didn’t.

‘Gilbert Lemon,’ he said.

Gilbert, thought Sapphire, what a name.

She wrapped the can of petrol back in the bin bag and snuggled it under her arm.

‘Let’s go then, Gil,’ she said.

 

REVIEWS

‘The most eloquent and powerful book I have ever read.’ Val Bierman, children’s book reviewer.

‘It is about forging one’s own identity, about confusion and certainty, about controlling and being controlled by events.’ The Scotsman

‘This is a book about choices (with) a bizarre cast of characters.’ The Guardian.

‘A poignant and sensitive novel that raises important issues.... Her writing has a mystical quality which stops this novel from being just another teen pregnancy story. Julie Bertagna has approached the subject with a true novelist’s skill. The atmosphere is tense and dramatic....a valuable contribution to teen fiction.’ The Bookseller

‘Many a young adult novel has been written about a teenage pregnancy but few manage to convey the conflicting emotions in the mind of a 14-year-old girl as richly as this economical novel.’ ACHUKA, children’s books website

But far more important than the critics are ‘real’ readers. Here’s what some young readers thought of The Opposite of Chocolate:

‘Beautifully written and it tackled a real-life situation cleverly.’Eline

‘I think it was unique.’ Catherine

‘Truly amazing.’ Anna

‘The cover was brilliant and I loved Sapphire’s character.’ Sophie

‘Lots of people write about teenage pregnancy and it always ends happily ever after, but you looked at it from a different perspective, which was very interesting.’ Emily

‘It is fantastic that you write so truthfully.’ Lucy

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