by Patrice Lawrence
Winner Little Rebels Award 2023
Charlene loves to knit. It stills her mind. It soothes her racing heart. Especially when she has to bear her foster sibling's taunts. Especially when she longs to see her baby sister again. Especially when all of the systems seem set against her. But it's not long before the click! click! just isn't enough to contain her...
It is an incredible feat that this award-winning author, famed for her satisfyingly weighty, thrillers (Orangeboy, Eight Pieces of Silva etc.), has been able to condense her passionate commitment to wide-ranging social justice issues and her intricate plots into such a slim, super-pacey novella. As ever, Lawrence's tightly observed characterisations show her compassion and respect for young people. The sometimes-infuriating, always-engaging, Charlene lies at the heart of this story, a blazing force of pent up frustrations, seeded in her by the institutions which have failed her as often as they have supported her. And so, in amongst the wise and caring actions of adults* such as foster carer Annie, social worker Vera, teacher Ms Nzegwu and lawyer Shelley, there are also the adults who underestimate her, ignore her, write her off, criminalise her and who simply don't pay her the attention she is due. We clearly see here how readily young Black girls are put at risk of adultification by our justice and welfare systems. And while, as readers, we long -like the adults in her life- for Charlene to sometimes, just sometimes, preserve herself and smooth the way by saying 'sorry', we also applaud the clarity and wit with which she exposes the hypocrisy of the (predominately adult) people around her, signed up members of the sorry-not-sorry club. A brilliantly accomplished, heart-tripping, contemporary novella which will let the young people in your life know they have been heard.
[*How Lawrence is able to portray both young people and middle aged women with equal measure of authenticity, warmth and respect earns my admiration every time]. Reading Age 8+, Interest Age 11+, Paperback 128pp
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