Bedlam by Ally Kennen

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Bedlam by Ally Kennen

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Black humour, teen angst and family crisis combine with an issue-based thriller to make this a must-read novel for early 2009.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 1407103857

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When her father disappears off on yet another mysterious business trip, 16-year-old Lexi is packed off to stay with her mother in a deadly dull village in the back of beyond. If it weren't bad enough that her mother left home and abandoned her when she was just two years old, and that she has a meathead of a boyfriend with sleaze on his mind, and that there's about as much chance of a summer social life as there would be in a convent, disaster strikes almost immediately. Her mother's beloved dog Tyson runs off as soon as Lexi lets him into the garden. And even that's overshadowed when her GHD hair straighteners break and Lexi discovers that Mothers Mourning Dogs aren't likely to replace broken beauty aids.

So far, so teen angst good.

But there's an awful lot more to Bedlam than meets the kitchen sink drama eye. There's a howling in the woods. There are disappearing dogs and a spate of burglaries. There's an old abandoned refugee detention centre up in the woods and it was once used as a lunatic asylum. There's a mysterious figure caught only in glimpses. And there's the all-too-real menace presented by Owen, the horrible boyfriend.

I absolutely loved reading this book. It's tense and intelligent, but it's firmly rooted in the adolescent psyche. Dark humour bubbles below the surface and just as you're getting slightly breathless, a sucker punch catches you straight from leftfield and you find yourself in fits of laughter. Lexi is such a credible character, she belongs in a Shane Meadows film. Her family are all pretty disastrous - her brother has an ASBO and her dad's dealings are always shady. Her mother has shocking taste in men - but Lexi wants to go to college and make something of herself. She's trying desperately hard and she has great motives, spontaneously helping an old lady for no other reason than that she could do with some help. At the same time, she's as self-obsessed, short-tempered and sulky as any adolescent.

Behind the individual and family dynamics, the main thrust of the thriller deals with social issues - asylum seekers, the cycle of crime, drinking - all approached with sharp intelligence and the confidence to show without lecture or hector. Every element segues beautifully into each of the others. It's great to see an author approaching teenage fiction in the same way Mike Leigh approaches a film for adults. I think we'll be seeing Ally Kennen on some 2009 award shortlists, and deservedly so.

My thanks to the nice people at Scholastic for sending the book.

If they enjoy the combination of dark humour and thriller, they might also like Sugarcoated by Catherine Forde, in which lonely Claudia Quinn gets involved with an awful baddie. My Side Of The Story by Will Davis and Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine might also appeal.

Booklists.jpg Bedlam by Ally Kennen is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2009.

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Buy Bedlam by Ally Kennen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Bedlam by Ally Kennen at


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