15 Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins
|15 Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins
|Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam
|Summary: A fantastic debut novel that had me hooked with its realistic and beautifully written narrative voice.
|Date: January 2012
|Publisher: Oxford University Press
|External links: Author's website
Longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013
Laurence is fifteen years old. Ever since the day his father died in a car crash, his mum has sunk into depression and alcoholism. But now she has disappeared, and he has no idea where she is, or even if she is still alive. He has a mischievous six-year-old brother to look after, no money for food, and a home that is barely fit for living. He could just call social services, but there is no guarantee that they'll keep him and his brother together, and he can't let go of the hope that his mother will return. But even if she does return, just how much longer can he keep their dysfunctional family together?
The alcoholic parent is a theme that is seen pretty regularly in literature for young people. However, Dave Cousins manages to inject a sense of originality to his book, not only through humour, which works surprisingly well integrated into a story that has such desperation and at times real sadness, but also due to Laurence's wonderful narrative voice. I was instantly won over by his honesty and his awkwardness. Although he still hopes for a happy ending, for his mum to return, for him to win them a holiday through the radio game show where he's impersonating his dead father (don't ask), he isn't so naïve as to believe that everything will be okay. Whenever he reassures his brother, who isn't as likeable as Laurence but grew on me over time, you get the sense that he's also trying to ease his own growing fear.
There's a real sense of escalating desperation, and you can't help but get caught up in it. As the boys' situation worsened, I found myself desperate for them to catch a break, and every misfortune had me wincing and really feeling it for them. At the same time, the story never quite loses itself to despair; despite the grim setting, the vividness of the characters shines through. A good mother should always put her children first, and not let anything compromise her responsibility for her children. I had no respect at first for Laurence's mother, her alcoholism and her abandonment of her children; perhaps the author's most impressive feat, for me, was that he even managed to make me feel sympathy for her by the end of the book.
It's a rough, turbulent ride with no guarantee of a happy ending. I really enjoyed 15 Days without a Head and it comes highly recommended.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher immediately came to mind as a further recommendation, with both books sharing a highly engaging narrative voice and a protagonist under great pressure. For younger readers, I would recommend Jacqueline Wilson's The Illustrated Mum, which shares similar themes.
If you're hanging around you could be Waiting For Gonzo.
You can read more book reviews or buy 15 Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy 15 Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins at Amazon.com.
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