A friendship between two teenage boys seems to implode when one is found unconscious in a Bristol canal.
Noah Sadler, 15, knows he’s going to die. His cancer is terminal, a fact that seems to devastate his parents, Ed and Fiona, almost more than him. What gets him through is his friendship with Abdi Mahad, a fellow student at the prestigious Medes sixth form college and a refugee from Somalia. Until one night after a party to celebrate Ed’s latest photo exhibition—depictions of the same refugee camp where the Mahad family spent many harrowing years—the boys end up at the industrial Feeder Canal and Noah ends up in the water and then in the hospital, in a coma. Macmillan (The Perfect Girl, 2016, etc.) makes the dubious choice of using Noah, while comatose, as one of the story’s main narrators, a ploy that doesn’t fully pay off, especially when his outcome is all but given. Charged with investigating the incident is DI Jim Clemo (from What She Knew, 2015), fresh off a run of therapy and back on the job. He and his colleague DC Justin Woodley dig into the boys’ lives, which is made more difficult both by the language and cultural barriers between them and the Mahad family and by the fact that Abdi can’t, or won’t, speak about what happened that night. There’s much packed in here that doesn’t always mesh—the strained relationship between the families; the public’s ugly assumption that Abdi’s Muslim heritage is to blame for his white friend’s condition; plus a family slowly coming to terms with losing a child—but Macmillan hits enough key points to tell a compelling story.
Though the story is emotionally compelling and Macmillan nails the complexity of adolescent friendship, the central mystery is lacking.