‘I woke early – it had been a weird night even by our standards; we’d passed out mid-fight – and there was Kelly, curled around her duvet with her back to me.’
Ryan’s career is over. After winning a TV talent show and becoming a teen sensation, his fame has spiralled into addiction, embarrassing headlines and career suicide. Now his image-obsessed stepdad wants him at home, back in school and under his thumb.
However, a chance meeting with the enigmatic Toni offers him a fresh start in a new city. Before long he has reinvented himself, made real friends and is playing real music in Toni’s band. Despite living in a hostel, busking for his wages and living under a false identity, Ryan is finally happy.
But struggling to exist on the brink of homelessness, he is exposed to a more sinister world. Forced to truly decide what kind of person he wants to be, Ryan begins to realise that starting over comes at a price.
What I thought
This book is a really gritty novel about the people who ‘technically’ don’t count in the country’s homeless statistic, Ryan might not have a place to call home but he’s able to stay long term in a hostel so he has a roof over his head and isn’t permanently on the streets. He makes his money by busking as it’s the only opportunity available to him as he’s not welcome in his mother’s home by his step-father who is always pointing out that he’s a failed musician and just how much he had to pay for Ryan to go to rehab. It’s a real look at just how hard that life is and the fact that Ryan manages to push through and survive in such a harsh environment is a BIG DEAL, expect he doesn’t do it alone.
Ryan’s a musician and more importantly he starts this book as a failed musician. He won an ‘x-factor’ type competition and had been given music that wasn’t his own to play and a look that made all the pre-teens and teenage girls love him. But he crashed out, after his five minutes of fame people and music moved on and left him behind. However this touch of fame left Ryan with a drug problem and disenfranchised with the whole music industry; as much as he loves music and loved being famous he was decidedly a round peg being forced into a square hole in the type of music he was playing.
When on the streets music is the only thing he knows how to do so he ends up busking in an attempt to earn enough money to live, it’s through his busking that he meets Toni and reinvents himself as Cal Ryan. He pretends that busking isn’t his only income as he teaches her how to play guitar and ends up joining her band. You can feel his ache for company and for people to like him and his music and not the tween-bop stuff.
Why I read it
There are so many books on offer at YALC that it’s really difficult to decide which ones I want to get and which ones I don’t, or rather which ones I do want but not as much. One of the things I’ve learnt over the 3 years I’ve been going is to go up to each stall and ask a bookseller to pick one book from their collection that I HAVE to get. It’s meant I end with with a variety of books over the years that I wouldn’t normally pick out for myself.
This is one of those books, so thank you to the bookseller who ‘threw’ this into my hands.
Wilkinson manages to create a nuanced character in a world that is uncomfortably familiar, we see people sitting on the streets far too often (busking or not) and yet almost all of the time we just walk away. We know that their life must be difficult for them to be in this position and yet books like this are important as they force us to actually consider the situation.
This book DOES hurt to read at times. Ryan is so ashamed of his past that he runs away and tries to completely reinvent himself, and although it works for a while you know there will be a moment where it all falls down around him. It’s shame, fear, and pride that keeps Ryan going and not collapsing a lot earlier on under all of the weight but it’s also those exact things that don’t have him asking for help.
These kind of books are important to read and should make us uncomfortable, we need to learn to be more empathetic with people at rock bottom but unfortunately as a society we’re being less and less so.
Am I glad I read it? Yes, I’m really glad this was suggested as a ‘one book’ from the stall at YALC
Did I enjoy it? Enjoy is too happy a word, it’s an uncomfortable read and not necessarily enjoyable. But still good
Would I read again? Yes
Would I recommend? Yes, I think this book should be on a school reading list, there is more than one type of the homelessness that is counted among the national statistics. This book gives empathy and understanding and a reminder that sofa surfing or permanent hostel living is also a form of homelessness
2019 Reading Challenges
PopSugar: Should be turned into a film (a pop-star’s fall from grace and harsh life on the streets while he tries to re-make himself? What about this wouldn’t work on a screen?), two word title.
Read Harder: Published before 2019 with less than 100 reviews on GoodReads. (This feels unfair, this is a book that deserves to reach many more people than it has).
I’m really worried I short changed this book, but it’s raw and honest and hurts to read. Ryan shows strength that I don’t think I would have in his position and I hope to never find out.
I’ve had two Brownie camps this month and still don’t feel fully recovered but I’m determined to keep going and to never stop to the point where I’m more than a year behind. Which is a ridiculous goal but it’s where I am in life right now.
P.S I’m continuing with 2018 YALC with my next review which is ‘Emily Eternal’ by MG Wheaton