Saturday, 29 April 2017

'Liccle Bit' (South Crongton Trilogy #1) by Alex Wheatle

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*This review will contain spoilers!*
'I didn't want to be known as a snitch - snitches in Crongton had the same lifespan as a choc ice on a barbecue.'

'It all started two months ago. A normal day at school, if you can call going to my school normal.'

War is raging between North and South Crongton. Members of both gangs are getting deleted weekly, making the tension in the area unbearable.
Liccle Bit - Lemar - isn't a member of the South Crong crew. His mum would kill him if he got involved with Manjaro, the leader of the gang and his nephew's father. He's only fourteen and even though he's a very talented artist his entire family are eager for him to do well at school, just in case his art career doesn't pan out. 
But Lemar's life takes a turn for the unexpected when Manjaro singles him out. He wonders if he's trying to get closer to Jerome, because Lemar's sister Elaine doesn't want her violent, cheating ex anywhere near their son. He does all that he can to avoid Manjaro, but when the toughest man in South Crong asks you for a favour, it's impossible to say no... 

'Liccle Bit' isn't the kind of book I would normally try. I only picked it up because the sequel, 'Crongton Knights', is on the shortlist for the YA Book Prize and I'm reading every book in the running for the award.
This is a realistic representation of the working class, but it does verge on stereotypical at times. There's a vast spectrum of difference within the working class, and this is a very specific area to focus upon, but Alex Wheatle's focus doesn't waver.
Despite the fact that Lemar isn't directly involved with the gangs at the start of the novel, they're still a prominent aspect of his life. His family are always going to be intrinsically linked to them because of Jerome, which nicely demonstrated the way that the choices of your family can inadvertently impact your life. It also shows the problem with living in a violent area: it permeates everything, meaning that even if you aren't part of it, you're made a part of it just because of your postcode.
The exploration of why people get involved with gangs is fascinating. Manjaro justifies selling drugs and being violent, thinking of his crew as a kind of family. He has an all for one, one for all attitude
"Every loss is our loss and every profit is our profit."
and uses his ill-gotten gains to help his 'employees' afford higher education, even teaching them maths and English while they work for him. Lemar finds this out when he stays at Manjaro's house one night after an argument with his sister. When his family aren't there for him, Manjaro is, which explains why people feel loyalty to gangs: they may feel as though they have no one else looking after them, and no one wants to be alone.
The comparisons between the gang are family are laced throughout the book, and I'm looking forward to seeing if that discussion continues in the future installments. Lemar's parents are divorced, and because his father has a new wife and daughter and his mother doesn't like hearing about them, they also feel like two warring gangs.
Alex Wheatle is a genius when it comes to using informal language. He incorporates the lingo perfectly, bringing the characters to life, even if it is a little exhausting to get your head around at the beginning. The banter between Lemar and his best friends, McKay and Jonah, had me laughing out loud at multiple points
"Man! If I had ten minutes with Venetia," Jonah remarked.
"If you had ten minutes with her, you wouldn't know what to do, bruv," laughed McKay.
and it was nice to see such a great friendship between the three. They might mock and laugh at each other, but they support each other through thick and thin, and that's what's important. I also enjoyed Lemar's friendship with Venetia, though I'm not-so-secretly hoping it'll develop into more...

This is proof that you should always read outside your comfort zone. My assumptions were smashed to the ground, and I'm now looking forward to reading both 'Crongton Knights' and 'Straight Outta Crongton', the last book in the trilogy which was released earlier this month. Knowing that 'Crongton Knights' won the 2016 Guardian Children's prize, I'm expecting it to get better from here. 

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