BOOKS: Anne Fine – ‘The Tulip Touch’

“I can’t regret the times we had together. Sometimes I worry I won’t have times like that again, that there will be no lit nights, no incandescent days. But I know it’s not true. There can be colour in a million ways.”
I powered through this story in a day after getting stuck at transport stations by train delays and cancellations, making my usual 1.5 hour route home 4 hours!! I finished The Tao of Pooh… so quickly into my journey but had luckily stuffed this into my bag before I left, knowing that I might need another short book to fill the time, but unsuspecting that I’d end up finishing it due to the traffic trouble. While this (young adult? Teen? Even children’s) novella is a fairly short one, its lasting effect is complex and grave, and actually so far as slightly harrowing.
The story spans the formative years of Natalie, who befriends the school outcast Tulip, who lives near the new hotel that Natalie lives in for her dad’s hotel manager job. Natalie’s family ends up staying at that hotel for several years as business does so well. During that time, the girls’ friendship suffers bouts of attempted separation by their school and eventually Natalie’s parents who are wary of Tulip’s erratic and sometimes vindictive behaviour, and its possible effect on sensible Natalie. From early on, we are made aware that Tulip’s home situation is sensitive, and the story gradually culminates into a debate about nature and nurture and right and wrong.
Retrospectively, it’s clear that this story is a masterpiece, and not only for its intended audience of younger readers. The ending subtly causes the reader to think back and scrutinise the decisions made by Natalie, her family, and her schools over their treatment of Tulip and whether they were the right ones. It effortlessly comes together to make the reader wonder about the countless instances which combine to make the whole, and how the tiniest, most insignificant actions add up into something much bigger than the sum of its parts. This book almost makes you consider things that have happened in your own past which could have turned out differently, if you had noticed the warning signs as they occurred. It also causes reflection upon how something small and disregarded as unimportant could have a larger impact on someone else beyond your comprehension. This is one of the most thought-provoking materials on my extended reading list this year, unexpectedly in the form of a young adult novella recommended for my Children’s Literature university module (an extra-textual lesson learned: that treasure is found in unlikely places (though not if you were already acquainted with Anne Fine – I never read her stories as a kid and feel I missed out!)).
I hope this gushing of praise for The Tulip Touch inspires someone else to consider it for an afternoon’s reading, as without it being at all obvious or even dark, the story raises eerie questions about the progression of relationships and the effects of upbringing on a life.