‘EXT. NOTTINGHAM – DAY
July: the last day of term. A quiet road on a council house estate in St. Ann’s, Nottingham. A BOY dressed in school uniform, with a rucksack slung over his shoulder, turns the corner, coming into view.’
Fourteen year old Calum Brooks has big dreams. One day, he’ll escape this boring life and write movies, proper ones, with massive budgets and A-list stars. For now though, he’s stuck coping alone while his dad works away, writing scripts in his head and trying to stay ‘in’ with his gang of mates at school, who don’t like new kids, especially foreign ones.
But when his father invites his new Polish girlfriend and her son, Sergei, to move in, Calum’s life is turned upside down. He’s actually sharing a room with ‘the enemy’! How’s he going to explain that to his mates? Yet when Calum is knocked down in a hit and run and breaks both legs, everything changes.
Trapped at home, Calum and Sergei slowly start to understand each other, and even work together to investigate a series of break-ins at the local community centre. But Calum can’t help feeling like Sergei’s hiding something. Is he really trying to help, or cover up his own involvement in the crime?
What I thought
One of my favourite things about this book was the way that it was written, as Calum is a scriptwriter when he’s busy thinking things through it changes from prose to a script. I’ve not seen this done before and it gave a different insight into the character and how Calum thinks. Instead of just imagining conversations he’s able to see things from a slightly different POV and imagine how it would play out on stage and what the different stage directions would be, this means he’s not just imagining the words but is able to see it from an outsider’s POV. It was really interesting and well done. By starting the book with the script of Calum walking home it tells you everything you need to know about him. It makes sense to be told what he looks like and that his school bag is swung over one shoulder.
Personally the only bit that I thought was a bi weak was Calum’s script at the end. That was the one bit that I couldn’t get behind and found a bit whimsical, but I’m sure if I was to show it to my sister who’s studying and English Lit & Creative writing she would disagree. I can see how technically it’s a good script but it just didn’t appeal to me.
The main theme of this book is immigration and how easy it is to be swept along by the crowd. At the beginning due to the people he hangs around with Calum has quite a strong anti-immigrent view, ‘coming here and stealing our jobs’ kind of view. But it’s less his view and more the view of his friend’s dad. I don’t think Calum’s really ever thought about it but it’s easy to parrot what he’s being told in the news and by friends. You can see how easy it is for him to be swept along by the crowd and fall for the rhetoric. Because Calum is part of the ‘cool gang’ at school he’s on the outskirts of the bullying. Might not hit people or say things himself but is there to back up the guy who is doing it, and even if sometimes he thinks they’ve gone too far he doesn’t want to say anything because then they could turn on him. I really like how the author is able to put across that awkward teenage moment when you aren’t fully sure of yourself and don’t have the confidence to say anything to your friends. Especially in a group of young lads. Calum just isn’t brave enough (‘It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to our enemies but even more to stand up to your friends’). Calum’s first reaction to Sergai and to his dad’s Polish girlfirend isn’t to be angry that the immigrants are in his house it’s to be annoyed that anyone is in his house. His second reaction is about them being Polish but even as he gets to know them and realise that Sergai wants to be back in Poland and that the rhetoric is hate mongering, he still doesn’t want them there because he’s scared that they’ll take his place. Calum ends up using the Polish thing as a defense because he doesn’t want to have to think about his dad moving his girlfriend in without talking to Calum about it first.
The relationship between Calum and Sergai is a really interesting one, when they first meet Sergai is just a Polish kid at school that Calum’s mates abuse. It’s not until he gets home that he realises what’s happened and by then they have both decided to hate each other (Sergai for much more legitimate reasons that Calum.) It’s only when Calum’s leg is broken and he becomes house bound for a long peroid of time that they are forced to actually interact and get to know each other. It is then that Calum learns that Sergai didn’t want to leave Poland and hates the fact that he’s know living in Nottingham, but that it simply wasn’t safe for them to stay. As much as they try to dislike each other a friendship starts to form between them and Calum is forced to rethink his views and actually work out what he thinks rather than just repeating other people’s beliefs. The back and forth between the two is great as you can see the two start to respect each other even though they don’t want to.
Why I read it
When I first started doing the PopSugar reading challenges a couple of years ago one of the categories was ‘Author with the same initials as you’, alongside the friends that I was doing it with we decided to try and find an author whose name was as close as possible to ours. ‘Smart’ came up on my online search for a K.Slater and I really enjoyed it. Since then I’ve made a point of buying her new book each year and using it whenever I come across a similar challenge category. I really enjoy her writing style and the way the stories unfold. Reading this one was a no brainer and as I picked it up just as I finished the top 5 TBR it managed to jump into the next batch which meant it wasn’t sitting on the shelf for months.
I loved the way this book was written, the scripts were interesting and gave a unique way of setting the scene and getting to know the different characters as well as Calum’s thoughts. The way that Calum is forced to actually think about his views on immigration instead of just repeating what he’s heard on the news is really well done as it isn’t a sudden thing. By the end he’s developed his own beliefs but the change is a subtle one as he gets to know Sergai and discover what is was that made them move 928 miles from home.
This book also shows just to easy it is to get swept up in things and in the rule of the mob as well as how standing on the sidelines and not doing anything can be just as harmful.
Would I recommend? As I general rule I would recommend Kim Slater anyway, her books are always good and with a slightly different take on a subject. This one didn’t disappoint, and I’m looking forward to reading her next.
PopSugar: Author with the same first or last name to do, problem facing society today.
Read Harder: In one sitting.
As always please let me know what you think, have you ever picked up a book just because the author has the same name as you and how did that work out for you?
P.S The next book is ‘Demon Dentist’, by David Walliams.