Synopsis from Goodreads.
Fifteen-year-old Laurence Roach just wants a normal life, but it’s not easy when your mum is a depressed alcoholic, and your six-year-old brother thinks he’s a dog. When Mum fails to come home one night, Laurence tells nobody, terrified he and his brother will be taken into care if anyone finds out. Instead, he attempts to keep up the pretence that Mum is still around: dressing up in her clothes to trick the neighbours and spinning an increasingly complicated tangle of lies. After two weeks on their own, running out of food and money, and with suspicious adults closing in, Laurence finally discovers what happened to his mother. And that’s when the trouble really starts . .
Some books need to be read while you’re eating pickled onion Monster Munch and I think this is just one of those books.
Let me explain.
I find pickled onion Monster Munch e a very underrated crisp. They aren’t the coolest crisps on the shelf. Not everyone thinks of them instantly when they think of a delicious savoury snack. I mean, they don’t have Gary Lineker and Lionel Richie advertising them. They can’t be dipped in…um…dip. Or at least easily. I guess you would really have to want some dip to dip Monster Munch in dip.*
But they are the kind of crisp that you would buy because you’d not had a packet in yonks and then two seconds later, you’ve eaten the entire bag (well probably half, because the other half would be all down your jumper and in your hair. Is that just me and my ability to eat Monster Munch?).
They’re underrated in the savoury snacks stakes but they’re there if you look for them.
If you squint dead carefully at the above paragraph, you will see an eversoslightly passive aggressive commentary of the YA publishing industry.
I’m going to stop talking about crisps now just in case you get confused thinking you’ve stumbled onto my secret spin-off blog called ‘Eat the Delicious Crisp” where I eat crisps and blog.
However, I have to say quickly- that there is mention of Monster Munch in this book. I’m not just hungry, I swear.
This book was brilliant. I actually had never heard about it until Keren David recommended it to me in her interview. As you know, I’m a huge Keren David fan and I know her style of writing so I’m pretty confident if she said a book is good.
I didn’t actually realise how good though.
First up, I get a bit nervous when I find out a book (especially by an author I’ve never read) is about mental illness. I’m very critical about it and I’ve given up on books that have dealt with it in a pithy, flippant or sometimes downright offensive way.
This was good though, great actually. It was the perfect mix of sadness and humour without belittling the seriousness of the illness but also, just as importantly, not making it gratuitous. I know gratuitous is my favourite word for serious books but I really dislike it when an author writes a subject in a certain way because they want you to feel a certain way. Gah.
It’s not always an easy book to read because when I was laughing (and I laughed a lot) there was always a sad under tone niggling in the back of my mind. Like if you were drawing a picture and did a bit wrong but thought “Ahh, I’ll just colour over it in bright colours and no one will know” but you can still see the mistake under your colouring in. I really loved how the issues were always present, even when they didn’t seem like they were because the story was going through a more light-hearted patch, and weren’t conveniently forgotten about when the story moved on.
There are some bits that were extremely infuriating but not because of Mr Cousins’ writing ability, but because of his great ability to write teenagers. When Laurence is wearing a wig and pretending to be his mum so he and his brother Jay don’t get separated by the social services, I admit I did roll my eyes a little bit. Because, let’s face it, it sounds stupid, right?
But let’s remember that I’m an adult…. ish.
And as an adult, I’m screaming at him to go and get help, to stop hiding the fact that they’re living with cockroaches and living off Mars Bars. But that’s when I forgot he was fifteen, he was scared, he was alone and he had to look after his brother. Of course he’s going to make silly mistakes, he’s fifteen! What do you expect?
I liked how Mr Cousins seemed to find the balance between the silly and the sad. I think that’s important in books like this not because we need to water down the silly with sad or vice versa, but because it’s real. That’s what life’s like, it’s not all doom and gloom, but then again it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
Before I go, I should probably mention Mina because she was brilliant. What? What? No I am not biased because she’s Northern and has a funny accent. I mean, Northern accents are definitely the worst… yes?
But she was great and had the right amount of love for our hero and “What on earth are you doing?”
And yes, she was a sassy Northerner. I probably am a little biased.
Anyway…. this is a remarkable book and Mr Cousins is definitely an author you should be reading.
While eating pickled onion Monster Munch.
*dipdipdipdip. Did I mention dip?