The Silver Chain – at a glance
The School Reading Lists’ five word review: sharp, simplicity, delight, reassure, solve.
YA book title: The Silver Chain.
YA author: Jion Sheibani.
YA illustrator: Jion Sheibani.
Genre: Verse novel.
Published by: Hot Key Books.
Recommended for children aged: 14+.
First published: Hardback June 2022.
This Young Adult book is ideal for: anyone going through a difficult time in their life.
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This is a first for me: a narrative presented in a series of poems. Some time ago, and without ever having read one, I decided to disapprove of this idea. Jion Sheibani’s brilliant book has changed my mind completely.
We are brought into the life and mind of sixteen-year-old Azadeh Shaw. She is a talented violinist and attends a posh private college, paid for by a scholarship grant.
The world she comes from is very distant from that of her class-mates. Her father is from Iran, her mother is English. He is an electrician, but business isn’t great. Azadeh is ashamed of his battered old van and asks to be dropped off well short of school when he gives her a lift in. Her mother’s mind switches constantly between manic elation and crushing depression.
In the period leading up to a performance of The Lark Ascending, by Vaughan Williams, in which she is to play the lead violin, we see her suffer all the unbearable agonies of adolescence – hostility and jealousy between friendship groups, uncertainty about feelings towards others and how they feel about you, doubting your own worth and abilities – she has to manoeuvre her friends’ attention away from knowing anything about her parents, then coping with the shame and guilt of it.
I somehow felt that this narrative form would feel artificial and contrived. In fact, each poem presents a sharp crystallisation of Azadeh’s emotions at key moments, so that the usual ‘cement’ of a more conventional structure would seem cumbersome and redundant by comparison.
Azadeh’s turmoil of uncertainty and self-doubt is gradually calmed by the assurances and encouragement of her father, her teachers, her friend Phoebe and the continual focus of her love of music and, in particular, the preparations for the end-of-term concert. The Lark Ascending then takes on an emblematic role, reflecting Azadeh’s struggle to transcend her fears, to rise like the violin in Vaughan Williams’ piece, free and clear.
The poems come in a variety of forms. Some are not poems at all. Some are simply texts between her and her friends. But that everyday simplicity can still carry all the weight of a sonnet by John Donne. It would be impossible to convey this variety, even in a broad selection, but here’s one to whet your appetite.
This lovely book will, I’m sure, delight and reassure anyone going through this difficult time in her or his life. It will also solve at least one Christmas-list problem for parents, aunts and uncles!
Many thanks to Hot Key Books for the review copy.
If you like The Silver Chain by Jion Sheibani you might also like: our reviews of On The Move: Poems About Migration by Michael Rosen, Once Upon a Fever by Angharad Walker, Poems the Wind Blew In by Karmelo C. Iribarren and Alte Zachen: Old Things by Ziggy Hanaor. The Silver Chair is also featured in our recommended books for year 11 students.