By Simon Demetriou

Words make promises that we’re too often left scrambling to fulfil. In Jessica George’s debut novel, the word that’s dragged her protagonist, Madeleine Wright, behind it for Maddie’s entire life is ‘Maame’, the Twi word for ‘woman’.

This is a novel about being made to grow up too soon, and simultaneously about being made to grow up too slowly. Now 25, Maddie Wright is left to reflect that, ‘Five years of my twenties have disappeared into the ether and I live at home, have no boyfriend or obvious career path and I’m still a virgin.’ This is because, by virtue of being Maame, the independent one, the responsible one, the good student, the attentive daughter, Maddie has been left at home caring for her father who has Parkinson’s, while her mother spends years at a time in Ghana and her elder brother, James, flits from place to place as part of the entourage of a buddy who made it big on the rap-and-grime scene. Neither James nor Mrs Wright ever have any money, so not only is Maddie her father’s carer, she is also the chief provider for the whole family through a series of office jobs that she loathes.

If you’re feeling bad for Maddie right now, don’t worry. This book isn’t a hard-luck story. Maddie gets fired – ludicrously – from her job; her mother returns for an extended stay back in London; and Maddie is free to move out and start being the new her. Unfortunately, the new Maddie is only capable of navigating the world using the conflicting advice that Google provides, and she makes some poor social and romantic decisions that have consequences ranging from the tragic to the unpleasant.

But that’s all part of Maddie needing to pack a childhood and early-adulthood into the space of a few months, and thanks to George’s obvious affection for her character and gift for frequently – if inconsistently – witty phrasing (Maddie’s mother is the star of the novel in this regard, dropping gems like: ‘Maddie a friend of mine has a son who is now single. His girlfriend died enough time ago’; and, ‘It’s because you’re not married, so my brain thinks you must be younger’), the novel rattles along with optimism and verve.

The inconsistency I mention above does provoke a few jarring moments, and there’s no denying you can see the ending coming from several miles away without the aid of telescopic equipment, but I defy anyone to get to Maddie’s happy ending and not be cheering her on with a big smile. And that’s a pretty good thing to be able to say about a book.