Twenty Questions for Gloria is a gripping and compelling novel, written by Martyn Bedford.
Gloria is tired of her ordinary life. She barely recognises the free-spirited girl she used to be in the unadventurous teenager she has become. So when a mysterious boy with a thirst for rule-breaking strolls into her classroom, Gloria finds herself falling under his spell.
Uman is funny, confident and smart. He does whatever he likes and doesn’t care of what anyone thinks of him. He is everything Gloria wants to be. He can whisk her away from the life she loathes and show her a more daring, more exciting one, in which the only limits are the boundaries of her own boldness.
But Uman is not all he seems and by the time she learns the truth about him, she is a long way from home and everyone wants to know, Where’s Gloria?
I picked up this book on a whim, deciding to read it based on a one-paragraph synopsis that made it seem like this book might be of interest to me. And by the Angel, was I right. I devoured it in one day, desperate to find out how things would end. Twenty Questions for Gloria is full of suspense and mystery and it was absolutely impossible to put down. While it wasn’t exactly the psychological thriller I thought it would be, the real thrill of this novel was in trying to race through the chapters in order to find out what actually happened to Gloria. Told through both police interview recordings and Gloria’s retellings, there’s something sinister lurking beneath the surface of Gloria’s story and the urge to find out what that is is what really drives this book.
While this book is suspenseful and captivating, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s fast-paced. There are only a few moments in this novel where I felt as though things were moving quickly. For the most part, we are simply hearing about Gloria’s journey when she “went missing” and only towards the end did it feel like we were getting the action that such a psychological-thriller is built on. However, it did have that element of being fast-paced because behind the story that Gloria was retelling seemed to be some dark secrets, and I think readers will read her retelling not only to be taken on a linear progression of her disappearance, but also to discover the truth of what happened.
Because this novel wasn’t overly fast-paced, it often felt like more of a YA contemporary, and I don’t think that this novel should shy away from that label. It’s poignant and nostalgic in so many places, and I don’t think the greater messages of this novel should be lost in the broad “thriller” genre. The writing is more beautiful that I had imagined for a novel marketed that way. At the heart of this novel lay not only the truth of what happened to Gloria when she disappeared, but also the truth of teenage life. Twenty Questions for Gloria so beautifully conveyed the disheartenment that can occur in one’s adolescent years when they realise that they are condemned to a life of school, and then work, and then marriage, and then children, and then death. That’s how Gloria saw her life, at least. She yearned to be free; to live life without boundaries. As a teenager, I could definitely relate to Gloria in that aspect. I could connect with her desperation to live life according to her own terms and to escape the confines of an institutionalised world.
Gloria was a particularly interesting character to read about. While there was nothing about her that made her different from a lot of other protagonists out there, her emotions and nativity was conveyed to the reader with such insightfulness and intelligence that we couldn’t help but relate to her. She is the embodiment of teenage life. She felt trapped and yet she dreamed of a future brighter than the one she saw everyone else condemned to. That’s what made her such a beautiful person to read about. That desperate hope inside her was conveyed so clearly to the reader that we can’t help but locate the same desperate hope within us all, making us aware of the emotions and thoughts that plagued us when we were Gloria’s age, or even continue to plague us. While she is not different or remarkable in ways that make the character herself memorable, it’s the memories and feelings this character evokes that played the bigger role in creating such a touching piece of prose.
I especially loved the romance between Uman and Gloria. Their relationship was so believable and it wasn’t a smooth progression from not knowing him to loving him, so I think that’s what made their romance so realistic. While their romance could be portrayed as a little bit Insta-Love-y, I felt as though it was entirely reasonable for teenagers to have a crush on someone in that amount of time. I mean, it would be unrealistic if every author had a meeting and announced that “No characters shall have a crush before getting to know the other person on approximately three occasions beforehand”. I mean, that’s just not realistic. Teenage romance is perhaps the most complicated of every age-group, because love to us is such a new thing. Of course, we were loved by our family since the day we were born and we love our friends in a difference sense and we might have had a “relationship” in primary school that consisted of *gasp* hand-holding and then breaking up a day later via MSN, but as a teenager, a lot of us are experiencing feeling romantic love towards another person for the first time. Of course I’m generalising here, but my point is that there should be no rules for love in YA fiction and the love between Uman and Gloria reflected this through their honest representation of teenage romance.
Evident by my manic page-turning and the speed I devoured this book in, anybody could tell I was desperate to know how things would end. And let me tell you this: the ending is something I never suspected. I was constantly readjusting my opinion on how things would turn out, but I had never planned for it to end quite like this. There was a twist I’d never seen coming, leaving me on both knees, one hand in a claw as if I were grasping the heavens, the other at my heart, screaming: “WHY, MARTYN BEDFORD, WHY?!”. Okay, so maybe I’m being a touch dramatic, but it did leave me craving more. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see what Martyn writes next! I do have their other book, Flip, on my bookshelf – which I might have had sitting there for three years… – should I read that one? If you’ve read either of these books, I’d love to hear your thoughts! I’d give Twenty Questions for Gloria by Martyn Bedford a score of 8.5 out of 10. A thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read, but unfortunately, not one I’m likely to remember in a year. It’s good while it lasts though, so I recommend picking it up if you have time! I wouldn’t bump it up to the top of your TBR, but it’s worth picking up if you see it at the library.
Thanks to Walker Books Australia for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review!