William Sutcliffe is a necessary writer for young adult readers living in our own troubled times. His previous novel Concentr8 memorably described a world where suppressant drugs like Ritalin had become part of the everyday diet. This current story, also set in the future, features two adolescent narrators. Lex helps his father fight against his ruined country’s occupying oppressors and Alan, working for the other side, directs one of the ever-present drones flying high in the sky, occasionally letting off a rocket with lethal effects on targeted civilians below.
Set in a newly bombed out London, with most well-known landmarks reduced to rubble, this nightmare world draws on several books written about what it is like to live in contemporary occupied Gaza, cited as sources in an end note. It all makes for a gripping if bleak tale, with its final denouement never certain and indeed coming as something of a surprise. There may be a tad too much self-analysis going on while each of the main characters tries to understand himself better, given that both are keen to engage with the opposite sex but only one of them has any success. Yet both personal accounts are sensitively done and substantially ring true. Non-Londoners may sometimes feel a bit out as Lex cycles to and from closely identified areas that mean everything to those who know about them and probably nothing to most others. But in broader terms this novel provides an unforgettable picture of daily life resembling a hideous video game but within which normal human fears and aspirations still exist. Lex and Alan remain recognisable teenagers throughout although now living in what is still, at least in this country, an unrecognisably horrible new urban world.