Synopsis from Goodreads.
London, 1976: a summer of chaos, punk, love . . . and the boy they called Billy the Kid.
It was the summer of so many things. Heat and violence, love and hate, heaven and hell. It was the time I met William Bonney – the boy from Belfast known as Billy the Kid.
I’ve kept William’s secrets for a long time, but now things have changed and I have to tell the truth. But I can’t begin until I’ve told you about Curtis Ray. Hip, cool, rebellious Curtis Ray. Without Curtis, there wouldn’t be a story to tell.
It’s the story of our band, of life and death . . . and everything in between.
Some of the best books I read are the ones I stumble on accidentally. I can’t even remember why I decided that I might like this book. I’m not a huge fan of the 70s. I have an aversion against bands in YA fiction. I’d never even heard of Kevin Brooks.
So why would I read this YA book about a fictional band in the 70s… written by Kevin Brooks?
Maybe I was feeling particularly crazy that day.
I don’t know, but I did and it was brilliant. Seriously, it was brilliant.
If I could sum up what this book was about in one word it would be ‘passionate’. Every single character in this book is passionate about something. Well, OK, not Stan but I’m passionate about Stan so that’s OK; we’ll kind of balance each other out. Whether it’s music, drugs, punk, sex, – it seeps from the page and it’s practically impossible not to be drawn into it whether you care about it or not. This book is everything that YA should be- breathless, messy, funny, heart breaking, intriguing.
OK, I was going sum up this book with one word wasn’t I? Whoops.
I loved everything about Mr Brooks’ writing. I found myself underlining so many paragraphs it got a bit daft, especially when I found that my favourite quote ended up coming pretty early on in the book. And when I say early I mean the first paragraph.
“My heart was born in the long hot summer of 1976; my life was made, my love was sealed, my soul was lost and broken. It was the summer of so many things – heat and violence, love and hate, dreams and nightmares, heaven and hell- and when I look back on it now, it’s hard to tell the good from the bad.
It was all good and bad.
Altogether, all at once.
It was everything.”
Isn’t that one of the best openings ever? I could wax lyrical about how brilliant his writing is and how it really transported you to exactly where he wanted you but well, we don’t have all day, do we?
I have quite an eclectic taste in music but I’m not the hugest fan of punk music, which is basically what this book is about. The closest thing I am to being a punk is having a nose piercing and that one time I ripped my skirt and had to use a safety pin to save myself from an awkward situation.
Punk rocker, thy name is not Jo.
But it honestly didn’t matter to me because I was too busy loving this story and the characters to care. I think that’s one of Mr Brooks’ main talents. Not many YA readers could honestly say that they are true, true, true fans of punk music (and no, wearing a Ramones t-shirt from Topshop doesn’t count) but he makes sure that you’re never out of your depth. Mr Brooks has this great way of telling a story that heavily relies on the setting and the culture of the 70s without coming across as one of those pretentious music fans.
You know the ones… the ones who corner you at a party and they know everything and they heard of that obscure band before you did and omg they’re so retro and how have you never heard of them? You know the ones…. The ones you want to thump?
Mr Brooks is as far from that as you can get. Which, um, is good because I like to think that I’m not the kind of girl who would attack bestselling authors and also I can’t throw a punch to save my life.
Let’s talk about Naked. Normally I find fictional bands, YA or not, completely horrendous. They seem to be so cringey and fake and terribly unrealistic. But Naked?
“The sound was electrifying, stunning, the crash of chords ripping through the air like a thunderous shot of adrenalin, and when I started playing […] and the stage erupted in a blaze of lights, it all felt so good that I thought for a moment my heart was going to explode. The sound was almost too good to believe. We were so loud, so fast, so tight…. We were so there.. .it was incredible.”
I’d definitely go and see them and stand at the front and be doused in the blood/spit/bodily fluids of the nearest tattooed punk rock-…..
Hahahaha, I’m totally kidding. I’d be at the back because I’m a delicate girl who values her limbs and face. Also, I find only a certain kind of person can truly look good in a leather bra and swastika tattoos.
If, however, you aren’t too fussed about punk music please stop backing away from this book slowly. It’s not all punk and swastikas and Johnny Rotten. Do you like David Bowie? Of course you do, because who doesn’t? The Buzzcocks? Velvet Underground? Pink Floyd? THE WURZELS? Yep. This book comes with one of the best readymade soundtracks I know.
See? I’m not a complete dunce in 70s music. But if I had been alive in the 70s, I like to think that I would be cool enough to be looking upwards… a bit more…. Northern. Things were happening up there. I dunno, you may have heard of them?
And while I’m talking about awesome things from the 70s that came from my neck of the woods…
“The shop was called Sex, and over the years it came to be known as the birthplace of the sex pistols. When Curtis first took me there, in August 1975, it already had a growing reputation as the place to be. It was owned and run by Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood.”
Dame Vivienne Westwood.
Need I say more? Northern England sure produces the most excellent of artists… *cough*
I think this book would be perfect for anyone who is interested in reading something that is a bit different from the norm. This isn’t a book set in a high school and it’s not set in a dystopian world. It is truly sex, drugs and
rock ‘n’ roll punk rock. But the glorious thing about this book is that it won’t just interest people who are interested in the 70s or music but anyone who is interested in British and Northern Irish history as a whole. Mr Brooks sets the scene perfectly and it’s rough and it’s uncomfortable and it’s so, so good.
Anyway, enough with the setting. I think we’ve established that Mr Brooks knows his stuff. My favourite thing about this book were the characters. I absolutely loved Lili, our narrator. She was such a gorgeous, vibrant and clever heroine. I loved how she held her own in a very masculine world. She was such a caring character who, even though I didn’t always agree with the things she did, always tried to do the right thing and stand by the people she cared about no matter how close they were to crashing and burning.
She was also hilarious.
“I bought most of my clothes from jumble sales and charity shops, and – as far as I remember- my hair at the time was a failed attempt at a Suzi Quatro-style layered cut, which might not have looked all that bad if I hadn’t recently attacked it myself with a pair of blunt scissors… an exercise that resulted in me resembling a slightly deranged medieval waif.”
Also she plays the guitar like an absolute beast!
While I’m talking about Lili, I have to talk about something else….
I also loved the relationship between William and Lili so much. As much as I loved Curtis Ray in all his tragedy and beauty and I appreciated how magnificent he is as a character, William Bonney takes the biscuit. I just loved how he treated Lili.
“It made me feel how I was supposed to feel at my age.
Excited and stupid…
But stupid in a good way.”
I’m not going to talk about these two too much because I think it’s best to meet them on your own terms but I will say one thing, something that I think will sum up their relationship. On one of their ‘dates’ they walk around London discussing the genius of David Bowie and whether it was Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane who had the orange stripe across their face.
If you can give me an example of a more perfect date, consider my reviewer’s bonnet eaten.
End of slight spoiler.
The only problem I had was this book was the ending. Not the ‘just before the ending’ ending which I really loved, but the proper ending. I was OK up until then. Then things got a little too neat and tied up and lovely.
BUT…. After the angst Mr Brooks had put us through, a nice ending was a bit of a reprieve.
Hey, I’m a Brit- I like my endings messy… don’t judge me.
Perhaps a little unrelated, I read this book on my Kindle which is such a shame because I would have LOVED to have seen the faces of my fellow commuters as they saw what I was reading.
Live fast. Play dirty. GET NAKED.
Anyway, this book is spectacular and you should be reading it.