Crossing the Line is an unflinching portrait of school feuds, recounted in a mixture of fine prose and street language. Nick Geddes inhabits a world in which violence is endemic at his secondary school, Craigmyle High – weapons of choice: fists (but outside school, increasingly and, fatally, knives). Teachers, including the sardonic, but sympathetic deputy, McCluskey, operate at best a containment policy, while at home Nick’s parents are well-meaning, but disastrously ineffectual. His father is borderline alcoholic, while his mother is a latter-day hippy.
Grandmother, Lola Nan, who lives with the family used to provide a haven, but increasingly lives in a world of her own. Similarly, younger sister Allie, traumatised by the murder of her teenage boyfriend, Aidan – stabbed by the school bully, Kevin Naughton – has retreated into a fantasy world in which she continues to communicate with an imaginary Aidan. Meanwhile, Nick’s love-and-lust object, Orla (Aidan’s sister) beautiful and ‘…hard as nine inch nails’ appears hopelessly unattainable.
This somewhat reductive précis doesn’t do justice to a tightly plotted story, narrated in alternating past and present sections, in which events are inextricably entwined in a horrific web of attacks and counter-reprisals. The conclusion flags up a resolution of sorts, hovering somewhere between revenge and rough justice. The journey there is a distinctly queasy ride, but unpredictable school-bondings and both familial and romantic love make their quietly stubborn counter claim against the culture of violence depicted. This is also leavened by an acutely drawn cast of characters whose fierce individuality makes its own plea for understanding. This is a challenging, but rewarding novel for mature readers.