Monday, 24 April 2017

Crongton Knights, by Alex Wheatle

The first Crongton tale, Liccle Bit was narrated by the Lemar 'Liccle Bit' Jackson- we were introduced to the tapestry of life on his estate, and to his mates Leon and McKay. The sequel, Crongton Knights is narrated by McKay, so we get a fresh perspective on the Crongton housing estate- a place that is impoverished and struggling, tormented by blood feuds and turf wars but that is joined by community.

His mum has died, and McKay, his brother Nesta and their dad muddle along, trying to cope in their own ways. Nesta is struggling to keep his nose clean and has become caught up in some kind of feud with a local bigman over the theft of his beloved bike. McKay's dad works nights, struggles to make ends meet and his youngest son suspects there might be something his dad and brother are keeping hidden from him.

Crongton Knights focuses on the three amigos being talked into embarking on a mission for V, the apple of Liccle Bit's eye. She's had her phone stolen by an ex boyfriend with compromising pictures on it. Together with V, her friend Saira, and a hanger on nicknamed The Boy From the Hills they brave riots and looting and the world's most awkward bus ride to the Notre Dame estate way over the other side of the city. Things, naturally, get out of hand and there are decisions made, consequences suffered and lessons learned by all.

I love the characters in this series; they are all so complex. McKay especially is the one we get the clearest insight into in this instance. He's a talented chef but sensitive about his weight, so we understand his insecurities and his ambitions. He's really sweet to Saira and Valencia- interested in what they've got to say, defensive of them when in danger, he loves his brother and his dad and just wants to stay out of trouble and for his brother to be safe. The dynamics within the friendship group are believable, often hilarious and just so warm and affectionate. They're so loyal to each other and obviously all highly value their friends.

I particularly liked the introduction of The Boy From the Hills in this book-  a sad, lonely kid that McKay defended once and now can't get rid of. He's desperate for company and friendship and follows them around like a lost pup- quietly rich but definitely unhappy who covertly tags along but ends up earning the respect of the group and finding a place for himself in their circle. His burgeoning friendship with the 2 girls and 3 boys is beautiful to read, and so well deserved. I'd love for him to be in Straight Outta Crongton.

I love Alex Wheatle's books. Though the plots are often straight forward (Hide a knife, retrieve a phone) they're about more than just these little quests; his books are about bad decisions, the consequences of poverty and struggle, family, friendship, loyalty, the limited options that are available to estate kids. His use of language is masterful, there really is nobody in YA who writes like Wheatle- his words have a rhythm and a lilt all their own. It's not that his language and dialogue are particularly believable or gritty or reminiscent of American gang culture, it's like he's created this whole new world that has its own slang and voice totally apart. It's a self contained world that lives and breathes all by itself.

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