‘I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to wear a two-inch heel to school, Katie.’
‘Oh yeah, and where are you going in those Clarks, Hannah? The nunnery?’
‘At least I don’t look like a prostitute. And they’re not called nunneries, they’re called convents.’
‘You’d know, you’re still going to be a virgin when you’re thirty.’
‘You’ll probably be dead before you’re thirty.’
The Protected is narrated by Hannah, who, at fifteen years of age, is struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of her sister, Katie. The novel explores a variety of heavy issues, including anxiety, bullying, and grief. By having Hannah alternate between talking about life before Katie died (school bullying and Katie’s complete unwillingness to intervene due to the risk of ruining her own reputation) and after Katie’s death (Hannah trying to work out where she stands at school due to all her bullies now avoiding her, while also being suspect of approaches of friendship made by a new student, Josh Chamberlin), an emotional balance is maintained which prevents the book from descending into an unrelenting depressive state without compromising on the integrity of the gritty material.
The characters are well-developed and the relationships are complex and realistic. Hannah can’t seem to do anything to garner kinship from her sister, which makes any slither of kindness or understanding from Katie all the more profound. Having said that, Hannah does not compromise her own convictions (or magically gain the ability to overcome her fears) just to appease her sister. Hannah’s parents are, for the most part, hapless and too preoccupied to do what is right to support Hannah, but they do offer moments of tenderness when least expected. Josh is endearing and intriguing, his humour offering much needed comedic relief without putting him risk of becoming a comedic trope. If anything, the only issue I had was the abundance of male characters starting with the letter “J” (Josh, Jensen, Jared. Okay, there are only three, but I had to flick back a few times to make sure I wasn’t getting confused.)
The complexity of the relationships exemplifies the complexity of grief – it is never a clear-cut process of mourning the loss of an individual, as relationships are multifaceted. Hannah’s experience with grief, and her moments of high anxiety, are delicately depicted. The greatest appeal of The Protected is that it presents an array of issues without providing any singular character or event to neatly resolve them. The ending is one of the most satisfying of any book I have ever read.