Shaheed! by Will Miller

Shaheed! by Will MillerShaheed! is a fresh and original story set around a South London estate and the young people who live there.

It begins with Jahangir. He is a fourteen-year-old returning from Pakistan, where he has been living with his uncle. They have been trying to track down Jahangir’s brother, who was kidnapped by the Taliban, and in his time there, Jahangir has learnt a lot about weapons and conflict.

Lorelei is Jahangir’s sister’s friend. She is the daughter of a Croatian single mother with a troubled past. Lorelei’s mother is beautiful and enigmatic and frightened of the man Lorelei used to think was her father. When her mother suddenly wants to take her to Dubrovnik, Lorelei doesn’t know why, or whether she wants to go.

Jahangir and Lorelei’s stories become interwoven. The novel takes in gangs, sexual violence, drugs, religion, the terrorist threat and the response of the state. It’s a heady mix. There are odd occasions where it feels a little weighed down with exposition, or where the pacing could be picked up, but on the whole it has great energy and the characters are rounded and engaging.

There’s a nice balance here between realism and adventure, drama and insight. Jahangir, Lorelei and a number of their classmates have experienced trauma that many adults cannot imagine. This has marked them, but they also behave like normal teenagers, texting, teasing, flirting. The way the humour and the darkness coincide is sensitively done by the author.

I recently picked up a popular thriller and there was a young male character who was involved with drugs and gangs in London. He felt unconvincing, like something the author had seen on TV, a scan of a photocopy of a fading Polaroid. By contrast, Shaheed! feels authentic and vital. Even though I’m not the target audience, I learnt a lot and was gripped to the end.

I received a copy of this book from the author via a Librarything member giveaway.
View Shaheed on Goodreads

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Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

life-in-a-fishbowlYA is a genre that has largely passed me by but I liked the premise of Life in a Fishbowl and thought I’d take a look. I’m glad I did.

Jared Stone, an Oregon state senator, is working on an assisted dying bill when he discovers he has a terminal brain tumour (glioblastoma multiforme). He doesn’t immediately tell his family, but he considers the financial implications of his death and decides, for their sake, to auction what remains of his life on eBay.

The novel follows the impact of events on his family – in particular his sensitive, lonely fifteen-year-old daughter Jackie (whose response contrasts with her pretty, popular younger sister Megan) and four people who make a bid for Jared’s life, for very different reasons.

Life in a Fishbowl succeeds in treading a very difficult line – it is full of absurdist humour but it also has compassion and doesn’t shrink from difficult issues such as bereavement and assisted dying.

It takes in a lot of zeitgeisty themes – reality TV, computer games, PR, as well as perennial topics such as the torment of not being popular at school. As you’d expect, Jackie is the focus of the novel (presumably because sensitive, lonely girls read more books than pretty, popular ones) but we get the perspectives of all the family.

Even the tumour, ‘Glio’, is anthropomorphised. I thought at first this might be too cute, but it means the author can show Jared’s memories as Glio devours them, and gives us Jared’s thoughts at a time when he cannot articulate them.

Life in a Fishbowl shines a satirical light on contemporary culture but also has great warmth. It is funny, engaging and full of life.

I received a copy of Life in a Fishbowl from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Life in a Fishbowl on Goodreads