Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence

piranha stars green 5

“the moment I began to read, the very first page, Marlon’s voice caught me”



Sixteen-year-old Marlon Sunday is a good boy. He’s studying hard for his exams and he doesn’t do drugs or belong to a gang. Not like his brother. Marlon’s not going to bring his mother the trouble that his brother Andre has. Marlon’s not going to end up scarred and brain-damaged like Andre or dead like Andre’s best friend. At least, he’s not planning to. But fate has got other plans for Marlon. When a pretty girl knocks on his door and asks him out, he finds himself sucked into his brother’s violent world of gangs and drugs and every move he makes to extricate himself only drags him deeper down.

Gritty realism and crime don’t tend to feature very highly on my must-read list. I might not have picked up Orangeboy at all if it hadn’t been on the Costa Book Prize shortlist. But the moment I began to read, the very first page, Marlon’s voice caught me – his wonder and nervousness at landing this extraordinary date, his horror and helplessness at what ensues, his powerlessness, his attempts to take control, his fear. I love the way Patrice Lawrence builds up Marlon’s world, so that we know how he came to be the boy he is, who influences him, who he relies on. All the supporting character ring true and have their own strong, believable backstories which weave into the mesh of trouble that Marlon finds himself in. I’m particularly fond of the two strong female lead characters: Marlon’s mum and his best friend Tish. If only every potential bad boy had these two at their backs!

The other reason I love this book is that it has such a very strong sense of place. It’s London, and it’s a very real London of buses and bus-stops, tower blocks and terraced houses, vast cemeteries and fairgrounds. As Marlon moves through the city, we get the sense of the time it takes to get from A to B, the routes he takes, the atmosphere of each place. It’s all intensely visual, filmic almost, so that there’s never a moment when you can’t picture Marlon’s whereabouts. As I read the harrowing climax I felt I could see the action taking place right in front of me in the underground carpark.

This is a book with a great deal to say about gang culture, and I daresay teachers will discover it and use it as a springboard to discussion of this problem. Orangeboy examines the how and why of violent and transgressive behaviour and raises questions of how one should react in situations like the one Marlon finds himself in, with apparently no one to turn to. It’s useful to have books that fulfil this function, but don’t mistake this book merely for a worthy book that’s issue-driven. This is a fabulous read, a page-turner, full of gut-wrenching heartbreak and life-threatening peril and characters who leap off the page. Read it!

Claire Watts

More to Read!

You can find other books on the 2016 Costa Book Awards shortlist here.

Claire Watts writes and edits fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. Her new YA novel, Gingerbread & Cupcake, is just out. 

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