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Powerful, poetic and disturbing, Needlework is a girl’s meditation on her efforts to maintain her bodily and spiritual integrity in the face of abuse, violation and neglect.

Winner of the Children’s Books Ireland Honour Award for Fiction and a White Raven Award from the International Youth Library.


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‘I would like to make things beautiful, but a tawdry and repulsive kind of beauty. A braver sort than people have from birth. Sexy zombies on a bicep. That sort of thing.’

Ces longs to be a tattoo artist and embroider skin with beautiful images. But for now she’s just trying to reach adulthood without falling apart.

Powerful, poetic and disturbing, Needlework is a girl’s meditation on her efforts to maintain her bodily and spiritual integrity in the face of abuse, violation and neglect.


Shortlisted for the IRISH BOOK AWARDS 2016
Winner of the Children’s Books Ireland Honour Award for Fiction


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‘Reading Needlework is similar to getting your first tattoo – it’s searing, often painful, but it is an experience you’ll never forget.’ – Louise O’Neill, author of Only Ever Yours and Asking For It

‘Sullivan confronts a difficult subject matter head-on, yet with subtlety and grace … Needlework is a powerful novel that deserves to be read.’ – Sarah Crossan, author of The Weight of Water and One

‘Needlework is the sort of book adults worry about teenagers reading, and the sort of book teenagers need to have written for them.’ – Claire Hennessy, author, editor and reviewer

‘A modern, broken fairy tale that gets under your skin’ – Tara Flynn, author and comedian

‘I loved Deirdre Sullivan’s Needlework, a novel that is just as sharp and precise as its title suggests.’ – Doireann Ni Ghriofa, poet, in her roundup of the Best Books of 2016

‘Little Island has been making waves with its strong fiction list, and looks set to do so again in 2016. First up in February is Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan, for young adults and adults, a novel about child abuse and its aftermath that I read in one sitting. An important and beautifully written book.’ – Sarah Webb, The Sunday Independent

‘Her life is a knotted bundle of hair, and it’s impossible to untangle them without breaking them all… I don’t know if it’s inspiring, but Ces’s strong character definitely gives you strength. I am very sure that this story should be read in order to understand what some people go through… A word of advice: do not read this book after 2am as you might start crying – although it’s definitely worth it.’ – The Guardian

‘Needlework is the kind of novel you walk away from wanting to return to. It is the kind of novel that will disturb you, connect with you and leave you thinking about for a very long time after turning the last page. The language and imagery used are so sharp and cutting, the story so harrowing and the protagonist so memorable. I can not express how deeply this novel impacted on me and I will never forget it.’ – Shannon, Adventures of a Teenage Bookworm

‘Needlework is intricately woven with the rhythm and delicacy of a fine tapestry. It is a book that is both difficult to take and impossible to put down. Sullivan is dealing with an extremely sensitive topic here, and she does so with great subtlety and nuance. The writing is exquisite and poetic, the story, a compelling one that ebbs and flows as you follow. It handles its’ subject matter without succumbing to sensationalism and without pushing the reader; a task that is very difficult to achieve. The voice and perception is eloquent, powerful and starkly genuine. The result is a story that needs to be told, needs to be read and considered and felt deeply … Needlework is a rare work among the numbers of young adult fiction titles; honest, forthright, delicate and sincere.’ – Mary Esther Judy, Children’s Buyer for Dubray Books

‘Such is her control of her material that the narrative never slips into mere sensationalism. The balance between Ces’s real worlds of childhood and adolescence and her dream world of creating her own tattoos is beautifully maintained. It is material handled with all the delicacy of touch we would expect from the most talented of tattooists. And, along the way, it is material which provides some fascinating insights into the arcane lore and language of the tattoo world.’ – Robert Dunbar, The Irish Times

‘The most impressive aspect of this book is the depiction of its narrator. Ces is certainly not a victim. Though she keeps herself at a distance from others in order to avoid being thought so, the overall message is one of triumph over adversity in the simplest and most profound way. Ces is an incredibly strong, and eloquent character; and particularly for those struggling with the trials of adolescence, Needlework proves that you can overcome much, or at the very least, survive it.’ – Emily Elphinstone, No More Workhorse

‘The details of the skill, knowledge and painstaking preparation required are as alluring as the descriptions of delicate, powerful and enduring images, while the idea of blemishing the skin in order to create beauty is a metaphor for Ces’s path through life.’ – The Observer

‘Needlework is an often dark portrayal of a childhood scarred by domestic violence. But domestic violence is dark. Relationships are damaged, blame and self-blame are common and for young adults starting out into the world on their own, it can be a confusing, lonely and uncertain place. Women’s Aid hopes that this book helps readers to explore the issues and to recognise that domestic violence can happen in any home. We have worked with survivors for over 40 years. We know that there is hope. There is life after abuse. Women and children can, and do, overcome and be happy, healthy and safe.’ – Margaret Martin, Director, Women’s Aid.

5 Star Review in Books for Keeps
‘For the young reader who is ready for it, Needlework could very well be a landmark book – memorable, disturbing and moving.’ – Books for Keeps, March 2016

‘Powerful, beautifully written and evocative, this is one author in whom we’re very interested’ – Woman’s Way Magazine

‘one of my favourite books this year. Needlework by Deirdre Maria SullivanSullivan is a emotional story of a young teenager trying to rebuild her life and self confidence with a creative hobby after a difficult childhood. Great for young adults 15+.’ – Children’s book buyer for Hodges Figgis Bookshop

‘My number one most adored for this year has to be Deirdre Sullivan’s Needlework. This is the beautifully haunting story of Ces, a girl trying to navigate the waters of a life marked by neglect and abuse. For older teens and adults, this is one not to miss.’ – Jacq Murphy of Eason in her roundup of the Best Books of 2016 for The Irish Times

‘Needlework is a poetic and exquisite novel for older teenagers and adults. It has a dark subject matter which Sullivan explores sensitively and eloquently. This is a powerful novel that haunts you long after you have read the final page.’ – Author Caroline Busher in her roundup of the Best Books of 2016 for The Irish Times

‘Needlework tackles the dark subject of abuse head on, but her writing is so beautiful that you won’t want to put it down, even as your heart is breaking for Ces.
Winner of a White Raven Award from the International Youth Library’ – Author Kim Hood in her roundup of the Best Books of 2016 for The Irish Times

‘A searing, beautifully written tale for older teens about child abuse and its aftermath, a brave, necessary book that burned into my heart.’ – Author Sarah Webb in her roundup of the Best Books of 2016 for The Irish Times

‘A heart-breaking and unflinching look at abuse, and how society becomes complicit in the silencing of its victims. The writing is visceral, the story is gut-wrenching, and Ces is a character that is impossible to forget. Beautiful and poetic.’ – Author Catherine Doyle in her roundup of the Best Books of 2016 for The Irish Times

‘Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan is a poetic and eloquent exploration of violation, abuse and neglect and advocacy of the transformative power of art. Starkly genuine and sincere, Sullivan’s powerful use of the metaphor of tattooing invites reflection about identity, difference, self-protection and self-invention. This searing yet delicate representation of adolescent experience will resonate deeply with teenagers and is a story that needs to be told and needs to be read.’ – Judging panel for the Children’s Books Ireland awards

Cover design by Irish artist Steve McCarthy

About Deirdre Sullivan

Deirdre Sullivan is from Galway now living in Dublin and working as a teacher. She has established a reputation as a leading Irish YA author following her hugely praised Needlework, which won the Honour Award for Fiction at the Children’s Books Ireland Awards and was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. Her Primrose Leary series was also widely acclaimed; two of the Prim books were shortlisted for the Children’s Books Ireland awards; and the final one, Primperfect, was also shortlisted for the European Prize for Literature.

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