Troublemakers by Catherine Barter

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Troublemakers by Catherine Barter

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Reviewed by Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Summary: A quietly absorbing coming-of-age story that deftly explores a whole host of real, complicated issues about family and politics through a cast of wonderfully nuanced characters. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: June 2017
Publisher: Andersen Press
ISBN: 9781783445240

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Ever since Alena can remember, it's been her step-brother Danny and his boyfriend Nick who have looked after her. Her mother died when she was just three years old. It might be small and unorthodox, but Alena's family is a loving one. However, simmering political tensions in London, triggered by a series of bombings, threaten to spill over and shatter the stability of the only family Alena has ever known. Faced with complicated questions about family and politics, Alena finds herself looking back into the past at the life of activism that her mother led, a life that her brother has always been suspiciously secretive about, in the hope of finding some answers.

It took me a little while to warm to Troublemakers. At first, I was a bit put off by Alena's indistinctive personality, the seemingly uninspiring friendships, the matter-of-fact narration. The story seemed like it was going nowhere. However, almost without me noticing, the characters grew on me, the main hooks of the plot took a hold, and I found myself really falling in love with the entire thing.

At its core Troublemakers is a wonderfully nuanced and intricate exploration of family. We spend a lot of time getting to know Danny and Nick, and I loved the insight into Alena's very atypical family unit. While Alena's family situation is rather unique, the dynamics and tensions at play are universal and relatable. The story flows very naturally, which comes down a lot to how exquisitely real the central characters feel. They're all fully-rounded, with dialogue that's honest and unpretentious. Alena might have come across a bit boring at first, but I really grew to love her undramatic and down-to-earth character. It's a real pleasure to follow her growth and maturation throughout the course of the story, as she tries to navigate the waves created by the various tensions around her. Plus, she's one of the most convincing teenage voices I've heard in a while. Barter perfectly nails that incredibly relatable adolescent combination of growing insight and self-awareness, offset by moments of cluelessness and instant regret.

It's very much a character driven story. Big drama is eschewed in favour of exploring how these well-drawn characters deal with complicated issues of family and politics. It isn't preachy. It doesn't tell you what to think. Through Alena's eyes, we see how good people can be on opposite sides of an issue. There's an appreciation of the fact that political topics rarely have a simple answer, and it's often a juggling act, a compromise between ideals and reality, between looking after yourself, your family and your community.

By the end, I was left feeling very satisfied. For having got to know these flawed, but wholesome, characters. For having experienced Alena's growth and political awakening. For having learned about her family and the complex, emotional history that underlies it. The story intelligently wraps these strands together, complete with a powerful emotional punch at the end, that hits all the harder for how well you get to know the characters. The lessons that she learns - about grief, sacrifice and compromise - are conveyed with a subtlety that belies their importance. I reckon all teens, young and old, will get a lot out of this quiet gem.

Thank you to the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag!

Politics and the importance of finding your voice are also at the heart of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, one of my favourite YA contemporaries of the year so far. For more excellent characters with interesting, realistic and complex relationships, you won't go wrong with Radio Silence by Alice Oseman or A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard. We think you'll also enjoy Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed.

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Buy Troublemakers by Catherine Barter at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Troublemakers by Catherine Barter at


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