"A boy’s friendships and family loyalty are harshly tested in downtown Brooklyn"
February 2022 Book of the Month
The Carnegie medal winning author’s debut novel, published in the UK for the first time with the bonus of stylish illustrations, is a masterful portrayal of family and friendships in an urban poor neighbourhood of Brooklyn. Far from the cliché of drugs and violence in the ‘hood’ and yet unmistakably authentic and gritty, this is a rewarding and character driven novel that deals with the complexities of teenage friendships when poor decisions can have fatal consequences.
The title hints at the origins of the main character’s nickname, Ali, and it is the boxing skills he has been taught by Malloy, a legless Vietnam vet and just one of the memorable minor characters, which enables him to come to the rescue when needed. A misunderstanding at the big party the three boys have been snuck into, leads to Needles, who suffers from Tourettes, getting badly beaten up while his own brother Noodles does nothing and allows Ali to fight alone. We have seen the beautifully nuanced development of their friendship since the brothers moved in next door to Ali. Nicknamed by his sassy younger sister Jazz and taken under the wing of his strict, hard working but loving mother, Doris, the boys became inseparable, but can Ali and Needles forgive this betrayal, and can they all escape the retribution which is coming their way?
What this beautifully written novel does above all is showcase the strength that a loving and supportive family can give and when that is missing how friendships and community can fill the gap. Needles and his condition and the way in which he is accepted by the community is sensitively portrayed. The wisecracking dialogue is full of warmth, humour and genuine affection for the setting. A very real reading experience that is accessible and profound. Highly recommended.