Review: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

Cover of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon and quote: 'People tend to believe things just because everyone else does.' [...] 'They don't search for proof, they just search for approval from everyone else.'

This debut novel is part mystery part coming of age story. We follow two young girls, Grace and Tilly, during the summer of 1976, who after the disappearance of one of their neighbors (Mrs. Creasy) decide to find out what happened.

Selling this book as a mystery is a mistake. The disappearance of Mrs. Creasy results in a spark which many fear will turn into a devastating fire for the people living on the Avenue. Throughout this book, Mrs. Creasy seems to be the pillar who holds this community from crumbling.

So while the adults are busy whispering, gossiping, blaming, finger pointing, judging, and bullying we have these two young and innocent girls who try to make sense out of the mess the adults seem to be in.

It’s amazing to see these two ends of the spectrum. The adults somehow all seem to be guilty and as the story progresses we find out what they are guilty of. And then we have Grace and Tilly who throughout the novel try to decipher the meaning behind what the adults are saying. Because of their innocence, the double meanings behind grown-up talk is lost to them.

The narrator if the story is Grace, but we get the viewpoint of the other characters as well and through some flashbacks to 1967 slowly we get to piece together the history of the people living on this Avenue.

One might be tempted to recommend this book as a quick summer read as it is an easy read and it is quite lighthearted and funny at times, especially as we follow the girls. But this easiness and light humor ‘mask’ heartbreak, drama and tragedy.

One of the more important subjects this book discusses are the dangers of assuming a ‘herd mentality’, how one can accept beliefs which sometimes don’t have a true ring to them, and the consequences of these actions can often be devastating.

‘I still hadn’t learned the power of words. How, once they have left your mouth, they have a breath and a life of their own. I had yet to realize that you no longer own them. I hadn’t learned that, once you have let them go, the words can then, in fact, become the owner of you.’

This quote sums up the message of this book. We see the consequences certain words have among both the adults and the children of this book, and both are devastating. My heart broke several times while reading this book and I felt like giving warm and reassuring hugs to certain characters at every page turn.

While reading about the ins and outs of the neighbors of the Avenue my mind kept going back to the people and the stories of Wisteria lane from the series Desperate Housewives. I imagined this street with neat houses and neat people. Everybody knows each other and all share and keep secrets. Everybody bands up against this common enemy. The difference between Wisteria Lane and the Avenue is the presence of the two girls on the Avenue who act as a moral compass and as judges, in a way, free of prejudice and judgment.

From the start, I was captured by Joanna Cannon’s writing. Her writing is amazing. The surroundings and the atmosphere were masterfully created and all the characters (and we have plenty) were fully fleshed out.

A truly amazing debut. I highly recommend it. Read it on a hot summer day.

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