PublisherHodder & Stoughton
Date Published01 January 2015
Price£ 12.99


by Mandasue Heller

When 15 year old Skye ends up in care, the children’s home is more like a young offender’s institution and she has no one to turn to apart from a friend she met online. But it’s not her friend who comes to pick her up, it’s someone else entirely.


Mandasue Heller certainly isn’t afraid to tackle difficult issues head on, despite the title of her latest walk on the seamier side of life in Manchester.

When 15-year-old Skye’s mother, who hasn’t been taking the medication she needs, goes off the rails and stabs her husband, Skye is taken into care. Despite the social worker’s promises, Skye ends up in a children’s home that’s more like a young offenders’ institution.

With her father in hospital and her mother in custody, Skye has no one to turn to except a friend she talks to online, who goes by the username of QTPye. Skye’s scared of the other girls in the home and when she’s tipped off that some of them are going to beat her up, she does a runner back home. But the social worker is on her trail and Skye knows she needs somewhere else to stay, so when QTPye, who says her real name is Jade, offers her a place to stay and says she’ll meet her at the station, Skye jumps at the chance to get to safety.

The only problem is that it isn’t Jade who turns up at the station – it’s her older brother Tom. Skye has no choice other than to trust him, even when he takes her to a rundown farmhouse somewhere outside Manchester.

Heller always presents a bleak and wholly uncomfortable look behind the scenes of one of the north’s foremost cities. The police are quick to blame and take sides and the social workers are uncaring jobsworths. Skye’s home life, with a largely absent father who doesn’t even remember when her birthday is and a mother who can’t function without constant medication, is hardly perfect by anyone’s standards, but even so, it’s definitely preferable to the alternative in what is euphemistically and inaccurately known as ‘care.’

The chilling story of online grooming that underpins Afraid is sadly all too commonplace even now, and even street-savvy teenagers frequently get taken in by internet predators. Skye’s story makes very hard reading, especially when set alongside the knowledge that whilst Afraid might be fiction, Skye’s story is one that is in all likelihood being played out for real somewhere in the country.

Heller’s characters and settings carry the unmistakeable stamp of authenticity. It’s impossible not to be both gripped and moved by Skye’s story.

Reviewed 07 March 2015 by Linda Wilson