iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiThe Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
The Borough Press, January 2016
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep starts in England, 1976, during one of the most intense heatwaves of recent years, when a woman on the Avenue- Mrs Creasy- disappears. This pushes local girls Grace and Tilly to set out to discover if Mrs Creasy really has just disappeared, or if she’s been killed, while also trying to find God in the process.
To start with, I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy this as much as I did. It took me around a week to read the first 100 pages as I found it difficult to get into the story. There were some miss ‘flowery’ sentences where you could tell the author was trying to emphasise something poetic or philosophical, but they seemed so out of place from the point of view of a ten year old. They sat wrong within the writing style. However, there were some parts that just really struck me later on in the novel once I had adjusted to what the author was trying to say, and I think the way the heatwave was written made the whole novel feel even more stifling.
One of the biggest surprises reading this was the emphasis placed on religion and searching for God. When I watched people talk about this novel on YouTube, they generally only mentioned Mrs Creasy’s disappearance and that you watch drama unfold in this little town, two things that I love and wanted to see together. Despite how unexpected it was, I ended up really enjoying the look into religion. It exposed the hypocrisy of both the adults and the kids in the Avenue, in terms of their dedication to religion and moral standing, and it was religion itself that ended up being one of the standout parts of the novel for me.
I also really loved that Grace wasn’t really likeable as a character. Ten year olds are still obviously figuring out what is important to them, and how they want to behave, so watching Grace progress and change was very reflective of the changes kids make in attitude as they grow up. It also made me question whether kids really do grow up to be like their parents: all of the adults in this novel are kind of terrible people, incredibly malicious and quick to judge. And despite Grace doing things that are harsh, lying and hurting Tilly more than once, she’s also kind, and holds back on judging people without knowing them, unlike the adults. It makes you hope that she’ll run far away from that Avenue once she’s old enough, and take Tilly with her before they both grow up to be like the people raising them.
The plot was also great. I enjoyed the flashback chapters from the POV of other people on the Avenue, and although it took a while to figure out who was who- Grace obviously refers to people by Mrs and Mr, while the adults refer to each other by their first name- I ended up adjusting and really enjoying it. There was an open-ending, but questions I had throughout the novel were answered and there’s such a sense of foreboding in the final chapter and last lines I got chills. It was so satisfying watching the people who truly deserved it get the upper hand on the people who mistreated them.
Ultimately, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is about religion and growing up, making the decision between what is right and what is wrong, and whether or not we should be in any position to take judgement into our own hands without knowing the full extent of a story. I highly recommend it as a Summer read!