Book review: Ġimgħa, Sibt u Ħadd

Cover of Ivan Bugeja's YA novelThe fact that this Young Adult novel comes without sparkly vampires made it an immediate winner in my book (sorry).

But after spending an evening in the company of the characters that Ivan Bugeja created in Ġimgħa, Sibt u Ħadd , the verdict was simple to reach: this is a story that anyone who spent their teenage years in Malta will lap up.

It is  a tale that brings to mind the nostalgia of a typically misspent, Maltese youth -and by misspent I don’t necessarily mean the stereotypical drunken/stoned nights out that an older generation is likely to assume.

By the time I finished the first chapter my mind’s eye had already started a spontaneous journey back to those bittersweet years between thirteen and eighteen.

The years when tentative friendships are formed, some of them not necessarily out of enjoyment of each other’s company, but maybe more out of necessity, simply so you don’t have to submit to the ignominy of going up to Paceville solo.

The years when your mind flits from date to subsequent date, giving each conquest the same attention span of a particularly retarded fly. And despite this, imagining you’re in love with all.

BBQs at Golden Bay; lifts begged off long-suffering parents, making out on the sand behind the kiosks, which you rather optimistically imagine are doing a good job hiding you; the sense of ennui that school holidays bring with them; the outings to Valletta without a clear purpose; the endless games of ċama ċama while trying to summon the balls to dive off the high spot…

All these memories give Ġimgħa, Sibt u Ħadd a comforting veneer of the familiar, which Ivan has cleverly interwoven with a subtle, darker undercurrent that stops the novel from becoming predictable.

The novel avoids the cheesiness of obvious teenage angst by introducing this darker element in a sporadic, but well-timed manner.  Not for him the overly-dramatic (for me, anyway) vignettes of Frans Sammut’s Paceville, penned some twenty years ago. Ġimgħa, Sibt u Ħadd is not about obvious thrills but about a gradual crescendo of human pathos that eventually explodes to an unexpected ending, probably causing you to re-read the last few pages while thinking “what the…”.

At the end of the day, Ġimgħa, Sibt u Ħadd is your classic coming of age story. A story about a group of friends that fate brings together with unintended consequences. A group of assorted characters – some likeable, some not (Ruth, I can tell you, is byatch of the first order), all very real and each reflecting different facets of our teenage personae.

Although I’m not the target market I enjoyed reading this one. Those who are living their young adulthood right now – unlike yours truly, who still shies away from the actual adult stage whether young or otherwise – will obviously enjoy it more. Thumbs up.

Ġimgħa, Sibt u Ħadd, by Ivan Bugeja, is a Merlin publication and can be bought online by clicking here. The novel won first prize in the Konkors Letterarju għal Rumanzi għaż-Żgħażagħ.