Asboville by Danny Rhodes

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Asboville by Danny Rhodes

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Asboville is a great debut novel from Danny Rhodes. It's a real what you see is what you get number, utterly unpretentious, very sympathetic and also very honest. Do read it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: October 2006
Publisher: Maia Press Limited
ISBN: 1904559220

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Asboville tells the story of JB, a sixteen year old verging on delinquency. After warnings about stone-throwing, keying cars, breaking windows and making children's playparks a no go zone for the under 14s and the over 17s alike, he is caught being a passenger on a joy ride. He is served with an ASBO, his likeness is pasted up on posters all over his estate, and he is sent to live with his uncle in a quiet seaside town. His punishment is to work at painting the beach huts. At one hut each day, it will take JB the entire summer.

Asboville is a sensitive portrait of a boy from a disadvantaged background struggling with peer pressure, alienation and his own destructive impulses. It doesn't paint JB as sinned against more than sinning, but neither does it write him off as just another yob. And of course, we are all like JB in one way or another. We've all had problems that weren't of our own making, just as we've all had problems that were entirely our own fault. We all have choices, but some of our choices are circumscribed. Every character in the book is as well-rounded. Nobody is a superficial representation of a political or social point.

Over the course of the book, JB is able to see aspects of himself reflected back at him through the people he meets in his new surroundings. His uncle is as alienated as he is, also through no real fault of his own. He is able to see his gang back on the estate through the eyes of the people there when he meets a new gang in the new town, one he is not part of. Stacked against this is his fierce affection for his friends and the emotional safety net they provide.

We hear so much about the ASBO generation. The media loves stories of delinquent youth. If they can instil some fear, they instil it. Yet I fail to see what is so very different about this generation of hoodies from previous generations of punks, mods, rockers, teddy boys, Artful Dodgers and the rest. While I do think that everybody, even a disadvantaged teenager, has choices, I don't think the kind of vicious and public demonising provided by the ASBO is going to do anyone any good, least of all those people who don't appreciate their windows broken or their cars keyed. We might as well just put the kids in the stocks. At least it would be over with in a day. JB's mother articulates this perfectly in a wonderful scene at a public meeting, in which she points out the youthful sins of the adults who are now calling for this kind of solution.

Asboville is an easy read, very much in the vein of S E Hinton's Rumblefish and The Outsiders, and I did wonder if perhaps it would be more suited to the teenage market than it is to an adult audience. However, Rhodes isn't talking to teenagers in Asboville; he's talking to adults. He says that in writing the book he...

"wanted to give a voice to those teenagers who are being pushed towards the margins of our society by the introduction of Anti-Social Behavioural Orders"

... and I do think he has done that. What comes across most strongly in the book is that demonising people - whether JB, the teenager, or his uncle, the adult - is almost certainly not the way to go. This is a message for the grown ups, not the wayward teenagers. Notwithstanding, most teenagers will enjoy Asboville. My son is currently thoroughly engrossed in it, to the extent that it was difficult for me to claim it back for reference while writing this review.

I really, really, really (lots of reallys and then some more reallys) enjoyed Asboville. It's direct, palpably honest, sympathetic and entirely unpretentious. First novels are often self-conscious, as the writer begins to find a way to merge style with technique. Asboville doesn't have a trace of that. Rhodes is writing about what he knows and isn't afraid to present it, plain and unvarnished. You can't ask more from a first time novelist than that.

I am very much looking forward to seeing what comes next.

Another book, this time very definitely for teens, about the perils of demonising groups of people, is Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah.

Thanks to Danny Rhodes and Maia Press for sending the book.

Booklists.jpg Asboville by Danny Rhodes is in the Top Ten Books To Read In One Sitting.

Booklists.jpg Asboville by Danny Rhodes is in the Top Ten Adult Books That Teens Should Read.

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