A short (145 page) story for teen readers set on London’s toughest (fictional) estate: this clearly demonstrates why Alex Wheatle’s books set in Crongton have won so many awards.
Fifteen-year-old Briggy and his best bruv Terror are in detention when super-cool chick Caldonia Lake points out a harsh truth – neither of them are any good at anything. Before long they’ll be leaving school and, if they’re lucky, the very best that’ll be on offer to them is a dead end job in the 99p store. Desperate to impress, Terror blurts out they have plans. Plans to rob the Crongton Broadway Post Office. Caldonia is suddenly interested. Interested enough to want in on the non-existent plan. Briggy’s got enough to worry about but he can’t let his only mate down by chickening out. Suddenly it looks like they really are planning a robbery.
I haven’t read any books by YA author Alex Wheatle before. However, this brief glimpse into the Crongton universe is enough to demonstrate why he has won so many awards. Briggy’s first person voice is spot on and we feel like we’re really there, understanding just what it’s like to live with little hope on a sink estate while your parents argue and take the first steps towards divorce.
Interestingly we don’t feel sorry for Briggy as we step into his world. We simply identify with him. The other two main characters – his best bruv Terry (Terror) and the seriously hot Caldonia – are equally well drawn but the reader inevitably feels more removed from them given we are viewing the world through Briggy’s eyes.
A short book – just 145 pages – this is more a character / situation than a plot-based story. There is, however, a clever plot twist at the end. Sadly, this is my only issue with the book. The ending certainly works well in narrative terms and it provides the story with a positive and upbeat ending that neatly addresses the issues raised in the set-up. Yes, despite this, I couldn’t help feeling it was out of keeping with the tone of the rest of the book. Everything else feels entirely authentic but, much as I would like it to be otherwise, the ending does not ring true to real life. Perhaps, I’m just being cynical. I’d suggest you read the book and decide for yourself since – despite this reservation – it’s undoubtedly worth the £7.99 cover price.
It’s also worth noting that this book is part of Barrington Stoke’s ‘super-readable’ series so the language is kept simply – it has a reading age of 8 although the subject and interest level is most definitely teen. It’s also formatted and printed to meet the specific needs of emergent, reluctant and dyslexic readers.
If you enjoyed this, why not try one of Alex Wheatle’s longer stories set on the same estate – Crongton Knights won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 2016 and was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize in 2017. Alternatively, if you’d like to read another book with a powerful voice, I can’t recommend Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence highly enough.
Publication date: October 2018
Publisher: Barrington Stoke