Naked by Kevin Brooks

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Naked by Kevin Brooks

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Engrossing and intense look at London during the punk explosion in the 1970s. We say our obsession with image is something new, but is it? As ever with Brooks, this one comes recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: October 2011
Publisher: Puffin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0141326115

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Longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013

London, 1976: It was the summer of so many things. Heat and violence, love and hate, heaven and hell. It was the time I met William Bonney - the boy from Belfast known as Billy the Kid.

I've kept William's secrets for a long time, but now things have changed and I have to tell the truth. But I can't begin until I've told you about Curtis Ray. Hip, cool, rebellious Curtis Ray. Without Curtis, there wouldn't be a story to tell.

It's the story of our band, of life and death... and everything in between.

And if that isn't a great back cover blurb, I don't know what is!

Lili is a quiet student, not hip or trendy or in demand, and she spends most of her time playing the piano. She's an unlikely candidate for the nascent punk scene but Curtis Ray, the school's charismatic bad boy, doesn't agree. He recruits Lili to his band Naked, and it's not long before Lili gets naked with Curtis in more ways than one. As the band begins to make a name for itself on the burgeoning punk scene, fame-obsessed Curtis gets drawn further and further in and his drug-fuelled behaviour becomes more and more erratic.

Curtis notwithstanding, the music is great - raw, powerful, meaningful - and when new member William adds that special something, Lili know that Naked could truly go places. But William brings problems of his own - a troubled past in Belfast and a connection to the IRA - and Lili finds herself falling under the spell of not one, but two, dangerous boys...

The pacing in Naked is variable - at times this book is patient but absorbing and at others it's a real page-turner - and I think perhaps this makes it one for the bookworm more than the occasional reader. But I loved it. Really loved it.

Kevin Brooks writes so well from the female perspective - anyone remember Lucas? Lili, the book's narrator, is privileged in terms of wealth but impoverished in terms of stability and love. So she sticks like glue to the unpredictable and dangerous Curtis, even though she realises that the relationship is unsatisfactory right from the very beginning. An unfaithful, drug-addicted boyfriend is better than no boyfriend at all. Lili loves music for music's sake and so she finds real meaning in the band, but her contempt for the dissolute scene so ruthlessly exploited by the likes of Malcolm McLaren is thinly disguised. She shares these attitudes with William and the reader can see immediately how compatible these two are. But of course William's connection to the IRA brings complications even more dangerous than Curtis's obsession with fame and illegal substances.

This being Kevin Brooks, we don't expect the ending to be entirely happy. But it isn't entirely without hope. I thought Naked was a wonderful book - it gets down and dirty with the dirtiest but finds time for moments of heart-stopping tenderness, and it paints a vivid picture of a time today's teenagers will see as ancient history but whose emotional landscape matches their own, timeless, preoccupations. As soon as I'd read the last page I turned back to the beginning and read it from start to finish all over again. Not many books make me do that.

I think you'd also like Black Rabbit Summer, also by Brooks - a dark, tense, threatening crime novel that taps into the teenage psyche and skillfully combines adolescent sensibilities with a mystery plot. Or Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess, which also taps into our obsession with fame and image. Older readers will love The Last Stage by Louise Voss.

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