Genre: young adult
YA Reading Bingo Challenge 2014: A book with a female heroine
Sixteen year old Coo is finding it difficult to grieve for her deceased brother. Sam had been a perfectly adequate older brother when they were both younger, but once he found drink, he turned into a different person. Life with this new Sam had been depressing and at times, unbearable. For Coo, her needs were always marginalized or forgotten and her parents seemed to have little consideration for the effects of Sam’s behaviour on her. Her parents would breathe a sigh of relief when he didn’t come home, yet never turned him away when he returned, reeking of alcohol with an undercurrent of violence.
After Sam’s death, Coo begins skipping school with her new friend Joe to avoid the questions and sympathy from her classmates and teachers, unable to move on from this period of her life. One day on Brighton beach, she meets Banks, a homeless alcoholic with whom she finds an unlikely connection. Despite warnings and disapproval from her parents and friends, Coo continues to seek Banks’ company and as they share alcohol, chips and their respective painful stories, they try their hand at seeking a chance for redemption.
I loved that Stones was set in Brighton, but would have liked to see more landmarks and other geographical indicators to really get that Brighton-vibe. This might sound strange, but the writing style does read like it suits Brighton. The University of Sussex is a true campus university and if you’re living in university-managed halls, there’s little need for you to leave. The campus itself is surrounded by the South Downs and when it isn’t torrential flooding like it is now, its beauty almost makes you forget that Brighton is just a stone’s throw away. In contrast, Brighton city centre is much more urban and full of concrete (not that the university isn’t, there’s just a lot more greenery to balance it out). I always consider my university town to be a little gritty and edgy and I think that Ms Johnson captured that sense perfectly.
Homelessness is a real and visible issue in Brighton; outside of London, Brighton and Hove has the highest concentration of homeless individuals in the UK. Contrary to what might be expected, a lot of homeless people (though mainly men) are well-educated and highly intelligent, but for various reasons, have unfortunately ended up as another homeless statistic. They’re unable to break what is referred to as the ‘cycle of homelessness’: without a permanent address, individuals cannot get a job, but without a job they cannot generate an income to get a home, which can lead to a loss of confidence and self-neglect, resulting in low self-belief and employability to get a job. And so the cycle continues. Banks is one of these individuals who lost his job, home and family and has turned to drink to numb his problems. Though I would have liked to hear more about Banks’ former life, I think the homelessness situation was portrayed very well and his character helps to dispel many myths that pervade society about the undesirability of the homeless population.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t my kind of book. I like angsty YA just fine, but I couldn’t connect with Coo and considering what had happened with Sam, I thought that a lot of her behaviour was plain reckless and sometimes stupid. I realise that she’s rebelling against the cocoon that her parents have woven around her following Sam’s death and she’s trying to deal with her emotions in her own way, but it just didn’t sit well with me.
On a happier note, this is the first book I've been able to tick off my various Reading Bingo Challenges! As stated in the description above, Stones has qualified in the 'book with a female heroine' category on the young adult reading bingo challenge. Rather uninventive, especially for the first book on the challenge, but there was literally no other YA category it could qualify for. Only 97 more books to go!
Image courtesy of NetGalley.