Author: William Sutcliffe
Publication Date: 7th March 2019
This book was received from the publisher in return for an honest review
About the book:
Laugh-out-loud funny and instantly recognisable – not since The Inbetweeners has a coming of age story been so irreverent and relatable.
Fifteen-year-old Sam isn’t special. He’s not a famous vlogger, he’s never gone viral, and he doesn’t want to be the Next Big Thing. What he likes most is chatting to his friends and having a bit of a kick about.
None of which was a problem until Dad got rich and Mum made the whole family move to London. Now Sam is being made to go to the North London Academy for the Gifted and Talented, where every student is too busy planning Hollywood domination or starting alt-metal psychedelica crossover bands or making clothes out of bathmats to give someone as normal as him the time of day. Can Sam navigate his way through the weirdness and find a way to be himself?
A brilliant modern satire about fitting in, falling out and staying true to your own averageness.
What I Thought:
Sam’s not really sure what his dad does, he’s never actually stopped to ask, but when he sells his company and the family are suddenly rich Sam’s mum decides they have to move, and so they leave Stevenage behind, instead moving to a house in Hampstead, and with the new home comes a new school, the North London Academy for the Gifted and Talented. No while this seems wonderful for his art mad younger sister and his guitar playing older brother Sam has no interest in being an artist, or a musician or an actor. He just wants to play football with his mates back home…
To me this felt like a book of two halves one of which I definitely preferred to the other. For me the first half – well probably over half in all honesty – felt like it was trying too hard to be satirical. There were certain parts that felt over exaggerated to the point it was too much, just seemed a little ridiculous. Things we learn about the academy for example and the mother in particular felt ridiculous and to be honest just annoying. This book’s saving grace was that it seems to be quite short, before long I was 70% of the way through and things seemed to calm down a little, it felt like the author had stopped trying so hard to write satire and it slipped into what felt like an everyday contemporary novel where the guy tries to figure out what he wants in life, and tries to make his mother understand that who she wants him to be isn’t necessarily who he wants to be. I’m pleased I stuck it out until the end because it certainly improved for me, but I must confess if that percentage had been much lower when I glanced down I probably wouldn’t have finished it.
Sam is the central character and I did find him fairly easy to connect with. Pulled from his school, his friends, his home at 15 when the family comes into some money and his mum decides that Stevenage isn’t good enough for them anymore. I stayed at the same secondary school right The was from 11 to 18 but I can imagine if I’d be forced to switch schools that late on and to be put into a school which is so obviously not me I wouldn’t have been happy either.
Sam’s mum, I really had a problem with Sam’s mum, I just found the character too over the top in general, as though the author had taken a stereotype and then multiplied it by itself into some sort of hippy monster. I do think she does things with the best of intentions and genuinely believes she’s doing what’s best for her children but she does say some quite hurtful things to, and about, Sam. She calms down towards the end and I think becomes a much better character for it.
Ethan and Freya are Sam’s older brother and younger sister. Sam and Ethan have what I guess is a fairly normal teen brother relationship, mainly consisting of Ethan telling Sam to get lost, however they have a couple of deeper conversations within the book which I enjoyed. One the other hand I adored seven year old Freya she was frequently hilarious and the sort of sneaky younger sibling no one wants, the sort that lets you think you’ve gotten away with something as they appear to be in their own little world, only to reveal that they most definitely heard what you said by bringing it up at the worst possible time.
There were plenty of stereotypes to be found amongst Sam’s fellow students with at least one who made me shudder and to remove his smug smile on a regular basis. My favourite student outside of Sam and his siblings had to be Marina and I wish we’d had the chance to find out more about her.
I love satire and I really wanted to love this book but something didn’t quite click for me. Perhaps I prefer my satire to be a little more subtle. I have to confess that towards the end it did start to grow on me and the last quarter or so where it felt like it moved into more standard contemporary territory definitely added a star to my rating.
About The Author
William Sutcliffe was born in 1971 in London. He is the author of eight novels, New Boy, Are You Experienced?, The Love Hexagon, Bad Influence, Whatever Makes You Happy, The Wall, Concentr8 and We See Everything, which have been translated into twenty-six languages.
The Wall was shortlisted for the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal. Are You Experienced? has been reissued on the prestigious Penguin Essentials list.
He has also written a series of books for children: Circus of Thieves and the Raffle of Doom, Circus of Thieves on the Rampage and Circus of Thieves and the Comeback Caper.
He lives in Edinburgh with his wife, three children, two cats and a tortoise.
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