Near perfect characterisation coupled with a hard-hitting, nail-biting plot-driven story that’s as tense as any action film. 5 stars are simply not enough!
Winner of Bookseller YA Prize
Winner of Waterstones Prize for Older Children’s Fiction
Shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award
Sixteen-year-old Marlon can’t believe he’s really on a date with Sonya Wilson. He’s not cool, clever or street enough for girls like Sonya to notice him. But she asked him out and Marlon’s desperate to impress – even if that means taking a quarter of tablet of Ecstasy or carrying her stash of tablets. The date, however, ends in tragedy and Marlon’s world is turned inside out. It starts when the police question him, bringing up his brother Andre’s history of drug dealing and gang crime, and quickly escalates when the people from Andre’s past catch up with Marlon. They plan to use Marlon to get to the mysterious Mr Orange and start making demands. Demands that will put everyone Marlon cares about at risk if he refuses to co-operate.
I’ve been meaning to read this book since it first came out and it’s been near the top of my list since it won the won the Bookseller YA Prize and Waterstones Prize for Older Children’s Fiction. Somehow, I never did pick it up. What a mistake. Every character, even the most minor, have an impressively individual voice while three particularly stand out – Marlon as the narrator of the story, his best mate Tish, and Marlon’s mum Jenny.
Tish is without doubt the sort of friend I’d love to have. Larger than life and totally outspoken, she’s fiercely loyal and gives spot on advice – even when it’s not wanted. Her total “Tish-ness” (Marlon’s term not mine) also provides some much needed humour in this hard-hitting story. Her observations, and interactions with Marlon, made me laugh out loud more than once.
The portrayal of Marlon’s mum, in contrast, more often brought a tear to my eye. Despite everything she’s been through, she is able to remain positive and actively support both her sons. I quickly forged a bond with Jenny and more than once found myself cheering her on. This was most notable in a scene when drugs have been found in Marlon’s school bag and she effectively challenges the preconceptions of the school authorities. The amazing strength of character that she demonstrates in so much of the story also makes it all the more powerful when we witness her almost broken before the book’s climax.
The convincing characterisation in this novel also highlights a host of important issues about both class and race. For example, Marlon’s ability to reinvent himself as Cellboy Marlon in the eyes of the casual observer simply by changing the way he moves. Or, particularly powerful, the almost casual aside contrasting the way Sonya’s and Marlon’s life are valued.
All this probably gives the impression that this is a character-driven novel dealing with important issues with a less substantial plot. This would be wrong. It’s also a hard-hitting, nail-biting plot-driven story that’s as tense as any action film. As the author, Patrice Lawrence, inscribed in my copy a few years ago when I went to an author signing: “Plot driven commercial fiction (with boys) bloody rules!” She’s right, of course, but this book is so much more. If you haven’t already read it, what are you waiting for? Go get you copy now!
If you enjoyed this, I’m really struggling to recommend anything comparable. From what I hear, you might be best advised to join me in reading Patrice Lawrence’s second book – Indigo Donut.
Publication date: June 2016
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books