One of us has to go

by Katja Schulz
Book review by:
Claire Goldenberg

They say you should never judge a book by its cover. What do they know?

This is a fabulous debut novel by Katja Schulz, a German born UK based writer, and made all the more impressive by the fact that English isn’t her first language. Not that you’d know from reading her book.

The story follows Finja, a young girl who befriends the new girl at school, Sonja, and whose friendship carries through the first decades of life. Evident to the reader immediately is that Sonja is troubled. Finja has troubles at home too, and is fascinated by Sonja; drawn in by the security of an insular relationship, where the two of them have each other, and don’t need anyone else.

Both girls’ home lives are emotionally abusive. Finja sees this at first with the eyes of a child, and as an adult, you wish the young girls knew to speak out. The level toned descriptions of emotional torment are shocking, the helplessness of the situation is evident, and it’s easy to understand how the girls develop an unhealthy co-dependency.

Finja comes to understand that Sonja is unwell. As a result of her illness though, Sonja’s demands over the years become more and more extreme. From simple counting rituals within childhood to fear and anxiety which leads them as young women first to a different town, and then to a different country. Schulz portrays this in such a way though, that through the development of her characters, the extreme nature of Sonja’s demands, and Finja’s compliance with them, seem entirely understandable.

Finally though, Finja realises that their friendship is not healthy. She can’t live with Sonja anymore. She knows what she wants in life, and that she needs to be free of Sonja before she can have it. Sonja needs to change too, although it appears she won’t, and that really, they’re better off without each other.

You move with Finja throughout her life, and by the time she becomes resolute that she needs to be free of Sonja’s friendship, you’re right there with her. One of them has to go.

As an OCD sufferer, I was looking forward to this novel, written by another sufferer. The cover is dramatic, and hints at a dangerous story within. Helpfully too, for a person whose OCD has affected their ability to concentrate on reading, this is broken down into short, manageable, well-paced chapters.

What I liked in particular about this novel, is how Schulz keeps the reader’s interest over the story of a number of years. This she does with great pace, humour and honesty. As shocking as parts of the story were, I gasped and laughed in equal measure. It’s a book full of wisdom and learning. It’s intelligent and optimistic, and I finished it wearing a smile.

Click here to buy 'One of us has to go' from Amazon.  You now also buy securely from the OCD-UK shop here.

Read our own Chief Executive's review of the book on his website here.