A teenager holds his crumbling family life together in this finely crafted debut that strikes a delicate balance between humor and pathos.
Most evenings, 15-year-old Laurence and his brother Jay tread lightly around the “force-field of cigarette smoke and booze, with our mum inside” that dominates their roach-infested flat. When his depressed, overworked mother disappears, Laurence protects 6-year-old Jay from his suspicion that she’s not coming back. He knows better than to seek adult help, and for two weeks, living on toast, they manage to avoid their nosy next-door neighbor, Nelly. Laurence hopes that winning a radio trivia contest will solve their problems. With Jay at his side pretending to be Scooby-Doo, he pieces together clues to their mother’s whereabouts. A growing sense of urgency permeates the book, effectively shown in a chapter-heading countdown from “Whensday” and “Blursday” to “Tattersday” and “Doomsday.” This is countered by Laurence’s delightful new friend, Mina, who sees through Laurence’s often-hilarious actions. She gently cajoles him to tell her what’s happening when he’s ready, and with her steady presence, she helps him to see reasons not to give up on his mother. There are no quick fixes or easy answers in a novel in which it’s a given that life together is better than life apart, no matter how dysfunctional that life is.
Expect good things from this new voice in teen fiction. (Fiction. 12 & up)