YA Fiction: "Orangeboy" Patrice Lawrence

Sixteen-year-old Marlon has promised his widowed mum that he'll be good, and nothing like his gang-leader brother Andre.  But everything changes when Marlon's first date with the beautiful Sonya ends in tragedy; he becomes a hunted man and he has no idea why. With his dad dead and his brother helpless, Marlon has little choice but to enter Andre's old world of guns, knives and drug runs in order to uncover the truth and protect those close to him. It's time to fight to be the last man standing.

This was a good read. Within the first couple of pages the reader has been catapulted into what is possibly the worst catastrophe for any teenager. On a first date with Sonya Wilson (who Marlon has been attracted to from afar for ages and is suddenly thrilled to find her on his doorstep, ready to go to the funfair on a date with him) she dies tragically after they take an ecstasy tablet before going on one of the fair ground rides. The novel quickly generates a sense of panic, confusion, remorse, fear and guilt about what is happening and captures Marlon's dilemma of either taking responsibility for what has happened or blaming the dead girl who he barely knows in order to keep himself out of trouble. He is torn between the advice and counsel of the police and his mother and that of his brother who has ingrained the "rules" of grassing up and surviving in the "real" world in him. Marlon is distracted by the thoughts that Sonya sought him out, that they were on a date, that she felt something for him and his naive excitement of finally being recognised and picked out of the crowd despite his quiet, sensible, studious character - a direct contrast from his trouble making, law breaking older brother - and he is unable to see the truth of the events and foresee the dangerous path on which he is about to descend. Furthermore, as events unfold, it becomes clear that this whole situation has been engineered to trap him....but why? And how can he stop it without violence and further tragedy?

There is a fantastic use of dialogue throughout this book. It is difficult to capture the authentic dialogue of teenagers without it feeling contrived but here it is total convincing. It is realistic and gritty but not gratuitously offensive or reliant of swear words and slang to cause impact and effect. The use of dialogue keeps the pace moving along rapidly and pulls the reader along with the action and spiralling sequence of events. It deftly creates characters.

Marlon is a likeable, appealing boy. The reader has great empathy for him. He is sensible and sensitive and struggles with the challenges of choosing between his single parent mother or his brother who has had trouble with gangs, drugs and the police. He struggles to choose between Sonya's reputation or his own- blinded by an attraction that wasn't really reciprocated or even real. He faces choices of right and wrong, truth or lies. The choices are contemporary, topical and relevant.

Themes of drugs, gangs, guns and the relationship the police have with the younger generation are explored in this novel. Marlon is unwittingly caught up in something quite sinister from innocently following the temptation to impress a girl and prove he is not just the "sensible one". He gets caught up in something which he cannot control - it is beyond his experience and yet he thinks he can resolve it. I liked that he does the right thing; he goes to the police, he confides in his mother but it is hard for him not to be judged by the adults -after all, he is a young boy in London and his brother has a chequered history. And even with their help, it is not enough to stop the chain of events that follow.

Andre is an important character. This novel is not preaching or educating readers about the perils of drugs and gangs but Andre illustrates that it is not a world of glamour. It has destroyed his life. He is suffering from a brain injury and the consequences of his action and decisions has had a devastating impact on his future as well as that of his mothers and brothers. I liked the lack of judgement the author made and the fact this is ultimately an action packed story with a strong male protagonist.

There are some discussion points at the end of the book which I thought were excellently worded and would appeal to teenagers. There is nothing moralising or patronising about any aspect of this novel or these additional notes. The discussion points would generate some really interesting chats about the themes in the book but also general conversations about peer pressure and decision making. Books are an important tool for opening a discussion between adults and children either within school or at home. These discussion points would work between friends, in classes or at home. They are a valuable addition to the book.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for an advanced copy of this novel in return for a fair and honest review.

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