This contemporary story evolves from a study of teenage relationships to a serious satire of consumerism, celebrity and the power of the internet, with more than a dash of Ealing comedy. On impulse, 15-year-old Ruby steals a pair of tights from a shop and feels ‘lifted’ by the experience. She then takes up shoplifting on a regular basis. Like the other items that she subsequently steals, the tights are taken to a charity-shop. Before long, with the help of her childhood-friend, Noah, she is recounting her experiences on a blog under the name, ‘Robyn Hood’. In this guise, she becomes a national sensation, commented on in the media and by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Others try to assume Robyn’s identity and, when Ruby insists that she is ‘Robyn’, she isn’t believed.
Freeman provides a recognisable background of family life and the process of growing up in this well written and enthralling tale about a girl worried about being ‘average’. The experience of shoplifting makes Ruby feel ‘eight feet tall’, and she likens it to being in a fairground queue ‘for the biggest, scariest ride there is’: the morning after, she experiences a ‘shoplifting hangover’. Shop assistants and managers are consistently portrayed as stupid or unpleasant, selling ‘over-priced rubbish’ which goes for a lot less in the charity-shop. In a situation where The X Factor is a recurring reference point, Ruby relishes her sudden celebrity as ‘Robyn Hood’, and resents the attempts that are made to steal her ‘brand’. Meanwhile, her gossipy school friends, Hanni and Amanda, are amazed at her developing relationship with Noah, apparently a ‘computer geek’ who ultimately demonstrates a nobility which enthrals Ruby.
Young readers will need a firm moral compass to negotiate the exhilarating scenes of shoplifting (which include a virtual instruction manual) and the alluring description of celebrity, before Nemesis strikes. Ruby’s actions are always understandable and explained in her point-of-view narrative and the extracts from her blog. Nevertheless, she is well named – this is a gem of a novel which should appeal to mature readers of all ages (apart, that is, from members of the retail trade).