This tender and poignant novel set in a small town in Ireland in the 1990’s is a slim, literary wonder. He is Mine and I have No Other (Canongate Books 2018) by Rebecca O’Connor is the story of local 15-year-old Lani Devine who falls in love with the enigmatic Leon Brady, whose mother is buried in the cemetery next to Lani’s house.
Filled with the awkward fumbling of adolescence – the unrequited desire, the filching of cigarettes and alcohol, the parental conflict – the narrative is set against the backdrop of a terrible historical tragedy: the legacy of 35 orphaned girls killed in a fire and buried in an unmarked grave near Leon’s mother. Love ignites between Lani and Leon, friction increases between Lani and her best friend Mar, Lani’s parents drop a bombshell that is about to change Lani’s life, she discovers a dark secret about her own family, and then her relationship with Leon begins to fracture as she realises that he too is haunted by a past incident that has left scars possibly too deep to be healed.
This is a coming-of-age story with a dark heart. The interspersion of stories from the orphan girls themselves adds to the melancholy. And the title refers to something completely unexpected which only becomes apparent towards the end of the book.