This book is so much more than a memoir, it’s hard to know where to start to sum it up: it focuses on the author’s stunningly candid narration of her difficult childhood – the numbers that open the first chapters are stark; a grim list of milestones marking each poverty line crossed along the way. But this is not about just one person’s story: the more general socio-economic causes that still condemn so many young people to live in dire circumstances are also called out for readers to consider.
The timeline of Lowborn moves across from Kerry’s present to the past she’s trying to piece together, before projecting into the future. We follow her as she patiently walks around the places where she grew up, in Scotland and England, in an effort to dig up difficult memories and fill in the gaps that a traumatic childhood has left in her memory. While there, she observes the changes that have occurred during her absence and looks for glimmers of hope for the future.
The locations change – north to south and back again – to recreate the fruitless chase for a ‘fresh start’, always tantalisingly out of reach, which just adds to the feeling of precariousness that permeated her years growing up. Her account of her past is brave and unflinching; she is forensic in her approach and doesn’t fall into the temptation to embellish parts of her story – she takes us with her to relieve it all: the humiliating, terrifying and downright heartbreaking.
Chapters move seamlessly between failings on an institutional scale and the very real impact that these have on people’s day-to-day life. By sharing her story she’ll have made countless people feel less alone and overlooked, as well as shining a light on the neglect that so many communities have experienced – and still are.
The writing is powerful and somehow beautiful even when describing the most awful of experiences. It’s impossible to remain unmoved by the way Kerry courageously bares her soul on the page; so often as I was reading, I found myself wishing I could give her a huge hug. A call to kindness is what unites each chapter: an invitation to be kind to ourselves and others who might be suffering because of bullying, violence, toxic families and financial insecurity – experiences that we know are both so extreme and yet scarily commonplace.