How many wrong decisions can a 12-year-old make?
Joel Campbell is a kid with too many responsibilities. His dad has died in the wake of a drug deal gone wrong, his mother drifts in and out of psychosis in a locked ward and his granny’s decamped for Jamaica, leaving him, his in-your-face sister Ness, 15, and their loony brother Toby, 8, in a scruffy London flat with their aunt Kendra. It’s up to him, Joel thinks, to make things right for everybody. But how can a 12-year-old compensate his sister for five years of abuse that’s led her into drugs and indiscriminate sex? How can he be Toby’s principal caregiver and protect him from gang dust-ups without admitting to his aunt that anything’s wrong? And how can he stop the social worker from sending Toby into foster care; keep the guy Ness shagged, then humiliated, from taking revenge; and prevent the cops from labeling him a troublemaker when all his plans go belly-up? Inexorably, every decision Joel makes leads to tragedy. A barge fire almost immolates Toby. A gang rape turns Ness from victim to knife-wielder to convict. The bad luck stretches all the way to Belgravia, where Inspector Thomas Lynley’s wife Helen meets Joel and a handgun on her doorstep.
Despite a bit too much chirpy art-as-savior philosophizing, this is George’s best since A Great Deliverance, her 1988 debut. Read it and weep.