Concentr8 by William Sutcliffe

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Concentr8 by William Sutcliffe

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Dark speculative story about over-medicating the behaviour of children, classism and the idiocy and ignorance of the people in charge. Painful and funny both - and worth it for the parody of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson alone!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 324 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1408866242

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In a speculative near-future London, there's a new wonder drug to treat ADHD. Concentr8 is cheap and effective. So effective that the mayor has instituted a programme to identify children for early, preventative treatment. Almost every troublesome teen in London is taking it, often before they've actually become troublesome. But then an austerity drive sees the program cut abruptly. Riots break out, led by the unmedicated teens.

Blaze, Troy, Femi, Lee and Karen are five such teens. And amid the chaos, an opportunity presents itself. They kidnap a city hall worker, take him to an abandoned warehouse, chain him to a radiator, and...

... and what? Why have they done it? What do they want? Across the course of a six-day stand-off, we will find out. The story plays out told from the points of view of the five kids, the mayor, an ambitious journalist, a police negotiator and the hostage himself. Why are we medicating so many children? Is the need medical or social? What price a good story? How are political careers leveraged? And how does it feel to be at the bottom of every pile?

There are many, many targets in this rather wonderful satire-come-thriller. The most obvious - and funniest, but you'll have to read to the end to find out why it's funniest! - is the parody of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, ex-mayor of London. We should always name him properly. It reminds us of who he is. You know. BoJo of the floppy hair and, well, other attributes. You might want to call them dis-attributes. I do. Anyway, for my money, the entire book is worth it for Hugo Nelson, the Concentr8 mayor of London, whose internal monologue is a study in narcissism. But there is also the over-medication of our children, the empty rapaciousness of journalism, and - for me most importantly - the way in which the powers that be are so efficient in the way they pathologise and criminalise poverty and deprivation. Suck up, punch down and, once you've punched, stigmatise. That's how it seems to work.

If you are looking for a genre-based dystopian thriller, you may be disappointed. And if you're not British, you may miss some of the references. But if you want to read something that is powerful and opinionated, something that is simultaneously painful and hilarious, something that might wake you up and make you angry, then Concentr8 is it. I loved it.

You might also enjoy Slated by Teri Terry, which posits a world in which the troublesome youth is slated - memories deleted and personality reset, then adopted out. We also enjoyed Sutcliffe's Circus of Thieves and the Raffle of Doom.

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