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One Two Three

Bourne could be any town in the world where an industrial activity discharged dodgy effluent to a river, with the people responsible departing just as people start to get sick, die, or be born with spina bifida or some other kind of life-altering condition.

This book is about triplets born one month after their father, who worked at the chemical plant, has died. First, there is Mab, who is ‘normal’, followed by Monday who has autism, and then Mirabel who only has the use of her head and one arm. For everything else, she is reliant on her mother and sisters.

The story unfolds through the voices of the three sisters who are now 16. Mirabel has an automated ‘Voice’ which was created for her by the fix-it man in the town which allows her to type what she wants to say.

They have grown up with a mother who has spent the past 16 years seeking justice for the town, looking for the evidence she needs to take the chemical company to court, to prove that the substances created in their plant caused all the damage to her family and to many others.

Anyone who could do so left Bourne after the river turned green. Only those who didn’t have another option have remained.

When River Templeton arrives at the girls’ school, he is shiny, full of advantage and health. He spends the first few weeks on the run from the Kyle brothers, born with not much brainpower, because they know who he is – the son of the man who wants to start the plant up again, and grandson of Duke Templeton, who owns the company.

Mirabel loves River at first sight. She asks her ‘normal’ sister Mab to persuade the Kyle brothers to stop. But Mirabel then has to watch Mab fall for River, River fall for Mab. By now we know what it is to live as Mirabel does, and we know she is so much more than the body she is so limited by.

The power of this novel is in the three completely different voices of the sisters, and the roles they play in dealing with the threat of the chemical plant reopening in their town. Monday’s autism gives her research an interesting twist, Mirabel’s watching, absorbing, reflecting in the corner of her mother’s workspaces as a counsellor and bartender, and Mab to benefit from her influence over River.

This isn’t a depressing read despite the challenges it describes of being dosed in chemicals then left to deal with it. Instead, it’s funny and insightful. And as the author says, it could be any town, anywhere in the world, where no one can drink the water but there’s insufficient evidence to win a case against the polluters.

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