The Day I Fell Off My Island tells the story of Erna Mullings, a teenage Jamaican girl uprooted from her island following the sudden death of her beloved grandmother.
When Erna is sent to England to be reunited with her siblings, she dreads leaving behind her elderly grandfather, and the only life she has ever known. A new future unfolds, in a strange country and with a mother she barely knows. The next decade will be a complex journey of estrangement and arrival, new beginnings and the uncovering of long-buried secrets.
A psychologist and former social worker, Yvonne Bailey-Smith, explains:
‘As an immigrant child, I often wished that someone had been able to take me aside and explain to me that leaving everything I knew to go on a so-called adventure to somewhere way beyond my imagination was going cause me an unimaginable sense of loss and sadness. I also wish that the same person had been there to reassure me that I would survive and even flourish, given half a chance. My work and conversations with children, young people and adults, as well as with many friends, have given me a unique insight into the travails of people who have experienced things for which they felt utterly unprepared at the time.’
Yvonne Bailey-Smith was was born in Jamaica in 1954 and immigrated to the UK in 1969. She trained and worked first as a social worker before becoming a psychotherapist. She is also a Water Aid Supporter and passionate about providing clean water and sanitation in developing countries. She is the mother of three children: novelist Zadie Smith; actor, musician and children’s book author Ben Bailey Smith; and lyricist and writer LucSkyz. She lives in Willesden in London NW2.
'The richest, and most unusual, feature of the novel, is that the dialogue is written in Jamaican patois... It’s a bold stylistic decision, which draws you into a different way of life – one that is bright and vivacious, but also God-fearing and bound by a tight social etiquette… Though terrible things do happen in it, The Day I Fell Off My Island is a kind and forgiving novel… The book is threaded through with social issues that its author has encountered in more than 40 years as a social worker and psychotherapist: mental illness, domestic violence and, of course, the corrosive results of racism, but she was determined not to make Erna a helpless victim.' – Claire Armitstead in The Observer
A beautiful read guaranteed to make you smile and bring a lump to the throat with its astute observations.' – Glasgow Herald 25 best books to read this summer
'An evocative picture of a childhood in Jamaica, full of detail and atmosphere, enriched by the use of Jamaican patois... This immersive coming-of-age novel has themes of family, abuse, racism, mental illness and loss threaded through its pages.' – Daily Mail
'Using her own experience of being an immigrant child as the backbone of her story, Bailey-Smith takes readers into the heart and mind of a girl whose experiences across the years shape her in ways she could never have imagined. It’s a compelling coming-of-age tale, written with wisdom, emotion and sincerity.' – Culture Fly 'Must-read books for summer'
'Most of the coverage will focus on how the author is the mother of Zadie Smith, but this story of a young Jamaican girl forced by circumstance to join family in England has more than enough to succeed in its own right. An absorbing insight into the sense of loss that immigration can invoke.' – New European
'The gift of storytelling runs deep for Yvonne Bailey-Smith who has crafted this beautiful coming of age story. Through her writing you are at once transported to a world and time almost forgotten and a generation whose voices and experiences are seldom heard. Thank you, Yvonne, for this timely novel.' – Maureen A. Bryan, founder of the Voice of a Woman
'With the assurance of a born storyteller, Yvonne Bailey-Smith crafts an irresistible narrative of family and community. Skillfully rewriting the familiar plot of immigrant trauma, she illuminates the complexities of claiming home between and within worlds of difference.' – Carolyn Cooper
'Yvonne Bailey-Smith’s prose, without ostentation and pretension, brims with the pleasure of a story well-told, and with the command of a writer who is comfortable moving between the many registers of Jamaican English. The Day I Fell Off My Island is an engrossing meditation on home, its elusiveness for the immigrant, and its constant presence as a cypher and conundrum. In the end she reminds us, with skill and grace, that home resides in the way we recover our sense of self through the invention of memory.' – Kwame Dawes
'Beautiful, evocative and powerfully engaging. I loved this book.' – Francesca Martinez
'Yvonne Bailey-Smith is a natural storyteller. This story is addictive, full of vices, feuding families, love, trauma, despair – all the things that make a colossal bestseller. I hope everyone will buy it.' – Miranda Pyne
'A novel that will enlighten everyone about the experience of migration, and particularly what some of those from the Windrush generation may have been through.' – Luke Daniels, President of Caribbean Labour Solidarity
‘A striking story with unforgettable characters you’d expect to find in the grandest work of fiction.’ – Candice Carty-Williams
‘Juggles laughter and tears with every page.' – Margaret Busby