Sunday, 29 May 2016

'Concentr8' by William Sutcliffe

*This review will contain spoilers!*

If you've visited my blog at all in the past month, you'll know that I was attempting to read all of the YA Book Prize nominees before the winner was announced on June 2nd. Seeing as this is the last of the books that I needed to read and it's not June yet, I succeeded!

'You want to know how I got famous? This is how.
Weren't proper famous. Didn't last more than a few days. Weren't popular famous neither. I mean most famous is we-love-you famous or you-done-something-good famous - this was the opposite. For a few days me and Blaze and the others was the official scumbags of the universe. But what I'm saying is - we ain't. We ain't and we weren't.
Taking a guy off the street and tying him to a radiator and keeping him sounds psycho but if you knew me - if you knew my whole life what happened up to that day - you'd get it.'
Interesting way to set up the enigma, but I wasn't gripped by the voice instantly; I always struggle with informal and inaccurate speech patterns; it's hard to make it sound genuine without it being overly stereotypical.

In a not-so-future London, children have been diagnosed with ADHD left, right and centre. The so-called sufferers have all been prescribed Concentr8: a miracle drug that alleviates symptoms, linked with a huge decrease in criminal activity. Following the London riots, calming the behaviour was at the forefront of everyone's mind, and it had been hopeful that Concentr8 would prevent it recurring. When the prime minister withdraws funding from the programme mor e riots break out across the city; everyone has become dependent upon Concentr8 and can't cope with the withdrawal.
Blaze, Troy, Femi, Karen and Lee don't riot, though. Blaze has bigger and better plans. He kidnaps a worker from outside the mayor's building, taking him to an abandoned warehouse and tying him to a radiator. The rest of the gang are unsure about what's happening, none of them feeling too comfortable, but Blaze is the leader: no one stands against him. Even if it means that they'll end up going to prison for something they didn't want to be a part of...

'Concentr8' is boring. Yes, there's a kidnapping. Yes, there's rioting. But considering it's set over six consecutive days, it felt like it had been dragging on for months. 
There are too many perspectives. As well as the gang, we get the perspective of the hostage, the mayor, a journalist and the hostage negotiator. All of the adult perspectives are interchangeable, while the kids' voices are distinctive but irritating. There's Troy, whose chapters don't use commas - only use hyphens - disjointed and pacey - hard to read. (That's when there aren't stray commas sneaking in all over the place... To write in a style such as that successfully you need to be very careful not to slip into habits).
Karen always asks questions? Even when she's making a statement? 
and don't talk to me about Lee
Lee is the worst
no punctuation hardly any flow
thoughts jumping about
didn't like reading Lee 
Yes, it makes them all individual characters, but I just couldn't gel with it. The entire book feels disjointed. I'm a fan of the multiple perspective novel, as long as it doesn't try to do too much: 'Concentr8' is like a ladybird trying to build a house. It's not a successful endeavor.
Nothing really happens. There's a kidnapping, but then it's resolved. The end. Yawn. The ending is very predictable... There's just no tension, and with most of the chapters being stream of consciousness style monologues, I was beyond tempted to skip ahead - I wouldn't have missed anything.
I can understand what William Sutcliffe was trying to do. He's attempting to bring an under-represented teen minority into the spotlight, draw attention to the prejudice and discrimination that council estate kids face on a daily basis, and give them a voice that's hard to ignore. He has the best intentions, but the execution just isn't good enough. It's very contradictory, because it feels like it's demonizing teenagers while simultaneously championing them.

Compared to the quality of the rest of the YA Book Prize nominated books, I can't understand how 'Concentr8' made the shortlist. Yes, it's nice to see under-privileged kids having their story told, but I feel as though the contrast between the rich upper classes and the poor lower classes is much more effectively demonstrated in books such as 'You Against Me' by Jenny Downham. 
If you like your books with more perspectives than you can count, definitely pick this book up. If you like reading different styles of writing and enjoy authors that play with structure, try this one! Just don't expect too much to happen...

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