Fadugba has said in interview that he wants his writing both to entertain and to educate. The Upper World is his attempt to do both those things: quantum physics and London street life collide in a quest to travel to the future and change one single moment.
The book has dual narrators – Esso in the present day and Rhia, 15 years in the future. Esso is struggling both to avoid being swallowed by the gang warfare which rages around him and to deal with his love for his classmate Nadia. Rhia, rebellious, bitter, institutionalised in a care system which neither sees nor understands her, longs to know about the parents she has never met. When their timelines bisect each other, both in the present day, the now Dr.Esso tutors her in physics to educate her about the possibilities of time travel and they must both make decisions about how they can change the trajectory of a single, fateful bullet.
This is a complex and challenging read and not for the faint-hearted: street slang is authentic and contributes significantly to the vividly threatening yet often humorous rendition of teenage life in challenging inner city areas. Characters are well realised and life in care is exposed with its flaws and burdens, its lack of fine-tuning to recognise and develop exceptional talent like Rhia’s. The narrative line moves at a fast tempo and readers must be aware of small details and the scientific and mathematical content, which Fadugba is at great pains to elucidate, even including Appendices at the end of the story. The Upper World is a fast-paced thriller with its roots in gangland but its reach extending beyond the dimension we know and understand. As the book progresses the focus narrows to the single moment which Esso seeks to change and this is a major suspension of disbelief for the reader, supported by Fadugba’s talents.
Little wonder that Netflix have snapped up the film rights; this is an intensely – and deliberately? – cinematic book which twists and turns away from everyday life to one in which new capabilities are born.