No Way to Go by Bernard Ashley

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No Way To Go by Bernard Ashley

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A well-constructed and thoughtful thriller centring on gang culture and failing families. Bags of tension, credible plot and a dynamic central character, with plenty of pause for thought. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Orchard
ISBN: 140830239X

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When ten-year-old Connor Long falls from a tower block, his sister Amber is devastated. Connor spent his life climbing - he was never at school - and there is no way he could have fallen. There's no way he'd have jumped deliberately, either. He loved life. And nobody knew that better than Amber, his devoted big sister. With a father in prison and a mother drunk most of the time, the bond between the siblings was a strong one. Convinced that Connor's death wasn't an accident, Amber resolves to find out exactly who's responsible.

It's not going to be easy. The police are sniffing around. So are the media. And Thames Reach, with its gangs and its drug dealers, isn't going to give up the story easily. Amber knows she'll have to take some big risks if she's ever to take her revenge...

I loved No Way to Go, although the prose isn't what you'd call lyrical - workmanlike actually springs to mind, but that sounds too critical for my meaning - but it's accessible and effective, and suits both the scene-setting in the first half of the book and the tense denouement in the second half.

But what really sets the book apart is its credibility, I think, and a great deal of that is down to the characterisation. Amber comes from a truly failing family - her father's violent and in prison, her mother's a drunk, Connor was a perpetual truant - but she herself is actually doing ok. She's bright and independent, with a strong character. Traces of her background affect her behaviour, but mostly she is utterly and absolutely her own person. There's no inevitable failure about Amber and she's clearly not destined to follow in her parents' footsteps.

The supporting cast are equally good. There's a dynamic deputy head, who illustrates how much effect charismatic but down-to-earth teachers can have on children and how micro-managed curricula fail to engage real learning. Ian Webber, the police detective, pursues his job in a way that isn't glamourised and paints the kind of portrait that we need children to see - policemen aren't all violent pigs a la G20 protests, but they don't wear red underpants outside blue tights either. Sunil Dhillon, the BBC reporter, is treading a fine line between information and sensationalism.

No Way to Go is truly a compelling story, with twists and turns in the plot and a few red herrings along the way. It starts slowly, setting the scene, and ratchets up tension as the plot moves along. By the end, it's real page-turning stuff. Its voice is authentic and its central character sympathetic and credible. It addresses topical issues with real understanding and it doesn't preach at all.

Highly recommended.

My thanks to the nice people at Orchard for sending the book. We also have a review of The Trouble With Donovan Croft by Bernard Ashley.

Those interested in exploring gang culture through fiction will also enjoy The Dirty South by Alex Wheatle. It's marketed as adult fiction, but it suits that crossover age. If they're ambitious enough, they could also look at Gang Leader For A Day by Sudhir Venkatesh, an interactionist study of real gangs. The Knife That Killed Me by Anthony McGowan is a properly teen book that gets inside the head of a boy that's going wrong, while Teacher's Dead by Benjamin Zephaniah has Jackson Jones trying to find out what really happened, just as Ashley's Amber does.

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