Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Trouble, by Non Pratt

Trouble is the story of 15 year old Hannah Sheppard, an ordinary year 11 girl that's currently grappling with physics and French, spending her weekends getting drunk with her mates at the park and flirting with anything that moves. Joining her as co-narrator is Aaron Tyler, the mysterious new boy who transfers, suspiciously, in the middle of his GCSEs to Hannah's school. He's promised his parents he'll try to make an effort to make friends and be normal, but he just wants to keep his head down and get through year 11. It's obvious he's running from something, but he hides his secrets well.

Hanna's normal teen life goes up in a haze of smoke when she finds herself pregnant, single and in quite a lot of trouble. An embarrassing situation for the daughter of a Family Planning Nurse. The book follows her through her pregnancy as she navigates the minefield of hormones, antenatal classes and English Language exams and learns some choice lessons about loyalty and friendship. Not least when Aaron, whom she has slowly been growing close and closer to, steps in and untruthfully declares himself the baby's father. Or "Her fake baby daddy", as Hannah likes to call him.

I loved seeing Hannah and Aaron's relationship develop- they're so different as people but both have such bravery and strength. They're incredibly compelling characters and it's evident from the start how much they need each other to battle through their teen years. They both have secrets that they're withholding, but it's not the mystery of these secrets that keeps the reader enthralled; it's the characters. The dual narrative is brilliant and works wonderfully. Each character has an identifiable voice and personality- you don't really needs the names or the use of a different font for each character as you can tell them apart easily. Hannah is sarcastic and chirpy (until she realises she is pregnant, obviously) when she becomes kind of nihilistically droll. Aaron's intelligence and heart show through his narration easily; he's wonderfully cynical and manages to be mature and naïve at the same time. He has a strength of character that is a joy to read and both of them genuinely made me laugh out loud. I loved just how recognisable and mundane their everyday dilemmas were; parents that care too much it seems like smothering, flaky mates, being too fat to retrieve your flip-flops...It's so easy to feel like you know these kids and you've either been there or are currently going through something similar.

An honourable mention has to go to the supporting cast too; supporting in every sense too in this case. Dirty Old Man Neville was a creation of comedy genius- it's nice to see that some of life's most valued and most trusted friends crop up in strange circumstances. Ivy, Hannah's nan was just the nicest and most supportive Nan ever; she held everything together the whole time. Little sis Lola was adorable too. Trouble proves that minor characters don't need to be cardboard cutouts. Hannah's family felt believably dysfunctional and flawed, and as characters they were incredibly well developed- just enough, choice details, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps with bits from their own families. Genius.

For me there were two main things that really stood out of this book- one is how dead-on the representation of teenagers is. It doesn't try too hard to be gritty or sexy, it's just normal. Teens reading this will instantly recognise pretty much all of the characters and a great many of the situations they find themselves in. Adult readers will just be glad they're not a teen anymore, because ugh. Like The Inbetweeners, this book shows that teens are not some mysterious, unknowable sub-species of adults, but they are quite often scared, usually under pressure from somewhere, insecure and bit lame sometimes. Pratt really nails the language and behaviour of real teens- it doesn't try too hard to use slang and texting or anything like that, which so often unravels a book- but the cringes, the cliques and the schoolyard politics are referenced enough to be real, but subtly enough that it's not actually about being a teen. It's about growing up and facing your responsibilities and that usually happens long after teen-dom. The other thing that I actively noticed whilst reading is the tightness of the structure. The prose never seems sparse, far from it, but there is no fat to be trimmed at all. The plotting is tight and punchy and never for a single moment does the reader wonder why this paragraph exists or why this character is mentioning this event, or what the point of this character is. There's no dead weight at all and I think for a debut novel that is pretty remarkable.

To sum up Trouble then; it's an incredibly tightly written, compelling story about making tough decisions and growing up instantly. There are some excellent, memorable characters and it's consistently (very) funny and moving. I loved Hannah and Aaron, loved how they developed and what they managed to do for each other- it's not a morality tale and it's not a fairy story either, it's a genuinely touching story about families and friends sticking together and being supportive.
 It's not by accident that it's been nominated for everything; the Branford Boase, the Carnegie Longlist, the YA Book prize either. Brilliant- I'd recommend to any readers over the age of 14 (because it's a bit sweary in places and a bit TMI in others- not unrealistically, but y'know. Some things you don't want to be explaining to a year 7...

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