The Deviants by C J Skuse
|The Deviants by C J Skuse|
|Reviewer: Liz Green|
|Summary: Tense and gritty teen drama with an interesting set of characters, each with their own secrets|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: September 2016|
|Publisher: Mira Ink|
The Deviants is a sort of Famous Five coming-of-age, except that the world in which these characters live is more skunk and shots of vodka than ham and lashings of ginger beer. Ella, Max, Corey, Fallon and Zane used to be in a gang that they named the Fearless Five. Following the death of Max's older sister, the group fell apart and the only members still in touch are childhood sweethearts Ella and Max. One day, though, the group reunites to search for Corey's cat, which has disappeared under suspicious circumstances. As the group members get to know each other again, it becomes clear that they each have their secrets and, as the novel progresses, these secrets, and their effect on the different individuals, are gradually revealed.
The book opens with a tense first person account of the moment a body is washed ashore. At the end of the first chapter, an unknown character asks the narrator, Ella, to explain the events leading to this moment, and each subsequent chapter is a flashback, a response to questions by this unknown character. The identity of this mystery character is not revealed until the end of the novel and I spent a fair bit of time guessing – incorrectly – who it was. When I reached the end, and discovered their identity, I realised just what a clever trick the author had employed here.
The novel is very easy to read with shortish chapters and is undemanding in terms of language and ideas. But don't be fooled by this, or by the Blytonesque chapter headings (Thumping Good Fun, Ella Thinks up a Plan, and the grand finale, Five have a Wonderful Time). There's no trace of Famous Five comfort in the gritty plot, making this book unsuitable for younger teens.
Apart from the plot (excellent), the book stands out for its characterisation. Ella, the narrator, appears tough as nails but is too scared to admit her own secrets. Boyfriend Max is abandoning the idea of university so he can work for his super-rich and vulgar father. Zane bullies Corey, who struggles with cystic fibrosis. Fallon has a secret that astounds them all. Five teenagers, five very different personalities, five very different voices. It's been carefully done.
CJ Skuse has many beautiful turns of phrase – Ella describes herself and Max as a 'masterpiece' (beautiful from a distance, but close up you can see the cracks). But some expressions are a bit off-kilter and, at times, a little editing would have been helpful – there are a few repetitions and inaccuracies that jar. And the novel is set in a volcanic area with red earth and limestone, all within the same coastal region of south-west Britain. Now, I'm no geologist but methinks something's not quite right there.
I tend to judge a book on plot, readability (how much effort and time it takes me to read) and longevity (how much I think about it after I've turned the last page). Deviants passed all three tests with flying colours. The plot is interesting and credible, I read the book in just two sittings (once I'd got about a third of the way through, I couldn't put the book down until I finished the final chapter at about 4 a.m.), and I've thought about it a lot since. That's how good it is. In fact, it's one of the most satisfying books I've read in a good long while. Excellent for teenagers, and for adults of any age.
For more Blyton-influenced teenage fiction with a 21st century twist, read Monster by C J Skuse
You can read more book reviews or buy The Deviants by C J Skuse at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Deviants by C J Skuse at Amazon.com.
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