Thursday, 17 October 2013

Feral Youth Review

Review by JJ Marsh

 Few books I’ve read can carry such weighty themes with such a unique voice and distinctive accent. Ben Myers’s Pig Iron or Irving Welsh’s Trainspotting, for the use of dialect/patios/literally rendered speech come close. And for me, that’s what sets this remarkable book apart. Courtney attacks the enormous social issues of contemporary Britain by giving the voiceless a voice. A real voice.

Her depiction of South London gangs and the daily struggle to exist is believable and precise. The depth of feeling for so many opposing characters reminded me of The Wire. The reader’s loyalty and respect waver along with the protagonist. Alesha, who’s on the receiving end of some pretty shitty luck, has to make some decisions. And it’s not her choice of GCSEs.

Feral Youth puts a different slant on Britain’s 2011 ‘BlackBerry Riots’, by looking at the causes, lacerating the media and using the most beautiful tool of all. Language. Alesha knows, understands, thinks and articulates – in her head. Externally, she seems sullen, rebellious, foul-mouthed and irrecoverable. To almost everyone.

This is the story of how a fifteen-year-old can slip through the cracks, failed by education, failed by Social Services, left to fend for herself and seek the dubious protection of a gang. For me, the most heartbreaking element of the story is Alesha’s hopefulness. She believes she can get out, escape her hand-to-mouth existence, change her wretched circumstances. And I was rooting for her, willing her to succeed while sharing her simmering anger at daily injustices.

Knowing the governmental cutbacks, rising poverty, widening gap between haves and have nots, and demonisation of young people in certain tabloids is bound to create more Aleshas makes me wonder how we can call ourselves a first world country.

This book made me cry, grit my teeth in frustration and realise that up till now, I only had one side of the story.

You can also read Polly Courtney in conversation with Catriona Troth here.

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