Trouble

by Non Pratt

25 Words or Less:

Just another story about teenagers living their lives: popularity versus reputation, last minute homework, late-night parties, drinking, smoking and–oh yeah–lots of sex…

Cover Art:

It’s quite good, although now I’ve actually read some of the book I’m not convinced it’s a great match for the text within. It looks older than the Young Adult market to me, but it could be that I’m too used to the glossy sort of YA cover. I like it.

However, I don’t particularly like the “sharp, funny, touching” at the top — if it doesn’t also say The Guardian, then it’s a bit of non-quote praise that could just be what the editor thinks. On the author’s website, the same space is taken up by the words “a girl, a boy, a bump” or something very similar — much better.

Formatting, Grammar & Spelling:

Professional, no errors noted, British English.

Prose:

Umm, how to put this? I know: “Great.”

I’ve harped on about UVOYA before, and in a superficial sense this is also an example: first person narrative, thoughts and feelings all on display via a cocky stream of consciousness. What sets this apart is that Trouble is a beast with two backs, each chapter split between a pair of first-person narrators whose voices are lively, funny, authentic… and distinct. It’s like two novels occurring in the same place and time collided with each other and perfectly intersected.

Characterisation & Dialogue:

Hannah is fifteen, and she’s having a damn good time. Yes, she endures a frustrating home life with her mother, step-father and younger sister, putting off the homework she is well capable of until the very last minute and clashing with her parents as a result — but on the other hand, she has a major stash of booze under her bed courtesy of her now departed older step-brother, and there are some pretty hot guys at her school to sleep with. And that’s great!

Aaron is fifteen, and he’s doing okay. His dad is the new history teacher at Hannah’s school and represents enough of a prize that Aaron got a free pass to move there too. His mum only wants for him to integrate, so he makes the effort to keep both his parents happy — and to his (and his father’s) surprise he finds his non-sporty-self drawn into the popular basketball clique, where his quiet brains and dry wit mark him out as “a funny guy” to have around.

Around these two, who within the sample have only had the most fleeting of encounters, are arrayed a believable cross-section of family and high school personalities. These are all nicely drawn, but what really makes the story stand out are those two narrators.

Narrative:

Was I enticed by the story so far? Yes, and in spite of my moaning about them, the words “sharp, funny, touching” already seem appropriate for what’s on display.

The main theme is thrown straight in our face from page one, when we join Hannah shortly after her latest sexual encounter with Fletch, a good-looking but self-centred talker who she’s already beginning to tire of. After dodging the usual low level parental antagonism on the ride to school the next day, she almost knocks another looker off his feet with the car door — that would be Aaron, her year’s new kid — but she is distracted from his bum by a text from her best friend, Katie: Fletch is already talking up their latest grapple as a “10/10″…

We switch to Aaron, who reflects on his family life and new school status with a droll, calm air. He comes across as cautiously unflappable, but counter to his usual lunchtime mode of reading while he eats he is waved over by Rex, part of the popular sporty set. Rex introduces him to the basketball team captain, Tyrone, and Aaron is surprised to find himself slotted into the Alpha-gang in the role of “funny guy” — making him privy to the standard jockish bragging about their prowess, on the court and with the girls. Hannah’s name quickly comes up, and Aaron remembers her from their near miss. He already knew her by reputation…

The texts flips back and forth between Hannah and Aaron as preparations are laid for a party at a local park, with drinking, sex and maybe smoking all key features of Hannah’s plans for the evening. The girls dress to catch the eye of the likes of Tyrone, whose super-hot model girlfriend Marcy stares daggers at anyone who fancies climbing the social-sexual ladder at her expense. Hannah does exchange a heated look or two with Tyrone, the secret that they’d already got off with each other once or twice something she hasn’t told anyone.

While Katie vanishes into the shadows with another basketball hunk, Hannah’s revealing outfit catches the attention of Fletch, who comes around anticipating more action and, eventually, is sent away disappointed. However, when he rejoins the baller crowd it is with smug claims of another victory. Aaron (only in attendance to keep his parents happy, though the specifics of the evening’s activities might not) is left wondering what Hannah, or any other girl, might find so attractive about a loud-mouthed braggart like Fletch. Sample ends.

It’s not a long sample, and it rattles along at a swift, entertaining pace. There are more than a few laugh-snort moments on show already, but in addition to the high priority sex focus that dominates Hannah’s story time is made to hint at greater depth for both main characters, and a few of their student friends as well (Rex comes across well amongst the more typical sportos on the team, for example). I’d have happily read on: sample objective achieved.

At this point the main story suggested by that cover art (and made concrete by the blurb) is yet to arise, which shows admirable restraint on the author’s part. This is scene setting, and nicely done it is too, so that when the plot really kicks off the characters will be strongly established and ready to get stuck in. “Ominously”, the chapter titles are dates running from September to June, and divided into sections marked First, Second and Third — and while I suspect Kingsway High School uses a trimester system, it’s probably not theirs this refers to…

Observations:

There’s a popular perception (I think) of Young Adult fiction that it’s largely a sub-genre of fantasy. You have your Jon Greens and the like, best-selling real-world tales about young people coming to terms with life, but it’s always Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight and their mantel inheritors that seem to get name-checked first in the mainstream media, at least when I’m listening. I suspect Trouble has the chops to compete with the big guns. I particularly like that it presents a recognisable contemporary UK, as opposed to a boarding school cliché that only the families of wizards or politicians are ever likely to experience…

There’s also a pervasive perception that YA represents juvenile writing, solely because it is almost exclusively about juvenile characters and predominantly aimed at juvenile readers (even if the actual readership breaks well beyond that demographic). This book promises to be a fine example of why Young Adult fiction explodes the nominal boundaries set for it. Good writing satisfies, regardless of the labels it wears.

Conclusion:

Trouble strikes me as a really strong and engaging piece of work, with great voices and characterisation. I’m not a regular YA reader, but I’ve seen enough here to have this one added to my online shopping list.

Rating:

TO BUY LIST


= Technicalities =

Title: Trouble

Author: Non Pratt

Publisher: Walker

Price: $5.94 (August 2015)

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