Book review: Follow Me Down by Tanya Byrne

When Tanya Byrne’s debut novel Heart-Shaped Bruise was published last year, it didn’t so much break onto the scene as explode in a myriad of starry-eyed reviews.

Follow me down
Follow me down

Teenagers and young adults fell head over heels for her intriguing story of a troubled young girl, an edgy psychological thriller told with a fresh, original and compelling new literary voice.

And now the talented young author is back with her much-anticipated follow-up... a gripping, twisting and turning, backwards and forwards journey into the dark, scheming hearts of two rival teenage schoolgirls.

The secret of Byrne’s success is all in the mind... her ability to tap into the unfathomable, half-remembered world of the teenage psyche where jealousy, desire, love and hatred can become so all-consuming that they escalate into matters of life and death.

Sixteen-year-old Adamma Okomma, a Nigerian diplomat’s daughter, has lived in Lagos and New York so when her father takes up a post in London, she is understandably nervous, and not a little contemptuous, about being incarcerated in an English boarding school.

She is convinced that exclusive Crofton College in Wiltshire, ‘about ten miles south of No One Gives a Damn’ will be a dusty old school where nobody can pronounce her name.

But all is not lost as Crofton turns out to be a co-ed school and her new best friend is the beautiful, tempestuous, unpredictable Scarlett Chiltern who seems ‘to reflect off the panelled walls like a new penny.’

Before long Adamma and Scarlett are inseparable despite Scarlett’s propensity for a swaggering self-assurance that ensures she has enemies as well as friends.

And then obnoxiously forward schoolboy Dominic Sim arrives on the scene and what he lacks in humility he makes up for in wit... and Adamma has a weakness for ‘funny guys.’

Problem is that he’s just the boy that Scarlett fancies too and soon the battle lines are drawn between the two rivals with Adamma shunned by Scarlett and her privileged peers.

But then Scarlett goes missing and everything takes a darker turn. Adamma always knew that Scarlett had her secrets but some secrets are too big to keep, and this one will change all of their lives forever...

Byrne has certainly moved up a gear in Follow Me Down with a plot more complex, more psychologically astute and more emotionally mature than teen novel Heart-Shaped Bruise.

By alternating between events in the present and events which took place eight months earlier, she allows us to watch her characters and their relationships slowly unfold whilst plunging us deep into the story’s central mystery almost from the opening pages.

Cleverly structured, high on emotion and page-turning suspense but subtly nuanced and brimming with powerful themes like obsession, rivalry, relationships and the nature of friendship, this is a novel to read, enjoy... and then read all over again.

(Headline, hardback, £10.99)