Author: Patrice Lawrence
Genre: Contemporary, YA, Mystery
Publication Date: 2nd June 2016
Read: April 2nd – April 5th
‘My life had always been too full of him, his street life, his accident, his recovery. It was like my family was plugged into our own Matrix and Andre was the Architect’
This book is so important. Not only is it full of diverse characters, but it explores a life of gang violence that many young people in London fall into and find it incredibly hard to escape. and I’ve never read anything like it.
The story follows, Marlon, a young man whose brother was involved in street gangs until an accident several years ago changed everything. Marlon promised his mum he’d stay in school and avoid his brother’s old life, but when old feuds reemerge and his family and friends are threatened, it’s not quite so easy to keep his promise.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book because it gave me insight into a life that I’ve never lived; as a white woman living outside of London I’ve never experienced unfair treatment and suspicion directed at me by the police in the same way that Marlon, a black young man, does. I know this comes from he inherent privileges of being white and a woman, and this book was therefore vital for me to better understand how people in Marlon’s position feel.
I immediately identified with Marlon’s character because despite the trouble desperately seeking him out, fundamentally he’s a good person. Even when he makes the wrong decisions or tries to be ‘street’ and ‘gangsta’, his good nature and conscience try to return him to the right track, and everything he does stems from a desire to protect his family and friends.
For a lot of the book Marlon is misunderstood by his peers, family, and the police, and this made him very easy to empathise with because the reader is privy to his inner thoughts and thus knows his true intentions. Other characters, however, don’t have access to these thoughts and that’s how misunderstandings arise.
The writing of this book was relatively simple, but I enjoyed the inclusion of London dialects. (I studied accents and dialects so I’m a sucker for books that make use of them.) The plot and pacing were very much in tune, with major events happening every few chapters but not running together in one long dramatic sequence. As a result, the book had a rhythmic style of storytelling that worked well with its subject matter.
Aside from some scenes at the beginning of the novel, romance is mostly absent from the story and I enjoyed this hugely. It was refreshing to see another YA book (This Savage Song, I’m looking at you) with little romantic interaction and I’m a fan of novels that don’t feel the need to include it at all. If a book foregoes romance to focus instead on strong friendships – which was exactly what Orangeboy did – and explores these friendships in detail, chances are I’m going to be 100% on board. One of the main friendships in Orangeboy could have easily become a romantic relationship, but I’m so glad it didn’t because that could have undermined the friendship itself.
I would urge everyone to read this book. It shows us the hardships and reality of life in a big city for young black teens and echoes the ideals of the BLM movement. Orangeboy was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award in 2016 and I honestly wish it had won because I think it would have been given more of the recognition it deserves.