Monday, 27 April 2015

The Gun, by Bali Rai

A tense and fast paced little book from Barrington Stoke about the terrible consequences of making bad decisions. Some quickly but well developed characters from diverse backgrounds too, including a refugee family.

Opening with the narrator, Jonas, being questioned in a police interview room, the reader knows from the beginning that this story is not going to have a happy ending. He recounts his story to the police officers and solicitors around the table.

Jonas has been best mates with Kamal and Binny his whole life- they've grown up together on the same high rise estate. When they witness a shoot-and-run one day outside the chicken shop, Jonas peels off from the group and investigates an alleyway. Finding the discarded murder weapon, he pockets it and takes it home, not considering the chain of events that will follow this decision.

Jonas keeps quiet for a few days hiding the gun from his mother and younger sister, wondering whether he should turn in the gun or not. But some gang trouble with a rival group leads him to show the weapon to his two friends. Always appearing on the brink of madness, Kamal seems to change when he knows about, and handles the gun. Soon he's out of control; armed robberies, intimidation, muggings. Jonas and Binny become increasingly concerned for their lives, the lives of their families and for the safety and mental state of Kamal.

Needless to say, things get out of control and end tragically, landing Jonas in his police interview. The book is breathlessly paced and really sharp. The sentences are short not only to appeal to non-readers, but also because Jonas is in a life or death situation and has to think, speak and act quickly. He's a good storyteller, and the reader sympathises with him because he lives in poverty and in fear and has become caught up in gang fights and turf wars because it seems that that's just what happens to boys in that area. Friendship equals gangs, and all the obsession with respect, status and territory that comes with it.

The novel is gritty and relatable- it's not exactly The Wire, but you really get a sense of the inevitability of violence and gangs for these boys. It's an easy to read, engaging story with an important message about consequences and escalating problems. There's also an important social message there about the communities stuck on the fringes of society in cycles of poverty, violence and bad decisions who just fall through the net and are ignored by the authorities.

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