Stefanie de Velasco
Translated by Tim Mohr (from German)
2014, I read ebook edition
245 pages, friendship, immigrant story, poor families, loyalty, drugs sex and alcohol
Nini and Jameelah, two high school students in Berlin, are the best of friends. They spend their time hanging out, sneakily drinking Tiger Milk (a concoction of brandy, milk, and passion fruit juice that they invented) in public, doing drugs, and making pocket money by prostitution. When they witness a murder in their housing complex, will they risk their own safety and tell the police what they saw? Even if that might mean Jameelah will be deported, one of their friends will be put in prison, and their friendship may very well end?
This is not the kind of book that I normally read, but for the sake of IFFP, I finished it. Some parts made me feel physically sick, especially the way the girls respond to the murder: Jameelah takes the victim's jewelry, dropping it into their container of Tiger Milk, which she then drinks from. (I forgot to mention that they also like shoplifting, which involves wandering through stores with open containers and dropping jewelry into the drink. They don't even keep most of the things they steal.) If Tiger Milk doesn't sound bad enough already, why don't you add some fresh blood to it as well?
I appreciate that this author is attempting to show the edgy side of teenage life among poor people in Berlin. The writing shows the point of view of the characters, and encourages the reader to have some sympathy for the people in the story. If you like that sort of thing, you might like this book.
The author also demonstrates some of the struggles that immigrant families face in present-day Germany. Jameelah and her mom are immigrants from Iraq, and have been in Germany long enough that Jameelah doesn't even know Arabic. And yet they find themselves facing possible deportation back to Iraq if the government finds that they have done something wrong. Obviously this is unfair on Jameelah, who has only ever known what it's like to live in Germany.
Overall, this was my second-least favorite book from the IFFP longlist. It was only surpassed by The Last Lover, which was so bizarre I couldn't even understand what the book was trying to say. I'm glad that Tiger Milk did not make either the shadow panel or the official shortlist. (Read the shadow panel's reviews of all the longlist books here.)
If you're interested in edgy Young Adult books about sex, drugs, alcohol, and murder, you might like this book. If not, avoid it.
You can buy Tiger Milk from Amazon or wherever books are sold.