Patrice Lawrence skilfully draws the reader into teenager Al’s world of loneliness, fear, anger, and deprivation as Al tells his own story in a direct and engaging narrative voice. Al’s Mum has just come out of prison and his greatest fear is that she will be drawn back into drug taking and they will lose their flat. When is Mum is arrested for shoplifting and assault and sent back to prison Al blames their downstairs neighbour, Mr Brayker, for involving the police and comes up with a plan for revenge that involves his beloved pet rats, Venom and Vulture.
Al’s inner conflict, as anger and vulnerability collide, is powerfully portrayed. His gradual realisation, thanks to help and intervention by his Gran, his half-sister, Plum, and local community stalwarts Ty and Pete, that other people, even Mr Brayker, have difficult lives too, is very moving.
This edgy, contemporary story is part of OUP and Barrington Stoke’s Super-Readable Rollercoasters series told in short, accessible chapters and produced with Barrington Stoke’s characteristic dyslexia-friendly font and layout. It is aimed at less-confident readers and the pages at the end include a ‘What do you think?’ section to help readers explore the issues raised in more depth. There is also interesting background information, a ‘who’s who’ of key characters, a short quiz, a book list, and a word guide. Readers will be most engaged though by the absorbing story of an angry, isolated, damaged boy who discovers the importance of kindness, community, and trust.