Harper Collins Australia
- ISBN: 9781786697684
- ISBN 10: 1786697688
- Imprint: Head Of Zeus – Zehpyr GB
- RRP $16.99
On any given night in Australia 116,427 Australians are homeless. 27,680 of these are young people aged 12-24 years. Most of the homeless youth aged 12–18 years in 2016 were living in ‘severely’ crowded dwellings (61%) or in supported accommodation for the homeless (26%).
Youth Homelessness– Salvation Army
121,000 16-24 year olds were homeless or at risk of homelessness in the UK in 2020 Centrepoint UK
Over the past year I’ve read some cracking teen books from the UK, and this is right up there with the very best. It’s engaging, often funny, extremely poignant and tackles a social issue of the gravest concern not only in the UK but also here in Australia.
When Tyler’s family moves from London to live in the spa town of Ilkley, West Yorkshire, the 15-year-old is well ticked off and prepared to resent absolutely everything about their new lives. He misses their old house and his friends, and he hates the ‘small town-ness’ of Ilkley. The fact that his parents have opted for renovations to their new house rather than their usual summer holiday somewhere exciting is, as far as Tyler is concerned, the nail in the coffin. His resentment continues to build, and his only outlet is taking his dog Dexter for long walks where he can vent his feelings on a blissfully unaware canine.
Desperate for something to fill the empty days, Tyler goes to the local lido (that’s the local public pool to us!) where at least he can enjoy his swimming prowess. To his great surprise he’s approached by an awkward gangly girl, whom he estimates to be around 18, with an almost unintelligible Geordie accent, long skinny limbs, baggy swimmers and gawky specs who asks him to teach her to swim. Of all the things he might have expected to happen this was certainly not one of them but ‘Spider’ as she is known is surprisingly persuasive and, being keen to earn himself some money for headphones, Tyler takes on the challenge.
And challenge it is – Spider is not the most confident of pupils and certainly not the most physically adept but she does make progress even though she’s not always reliable with Tyler’s payment for lessons. As the lessons progress, Tyler begins to realise that Spider’s life is one fraught with anxiety and difficulties as she ‘sofa surfs’ at a resentful cousin’s place, tries desperately to find some work and sense of self-worth. Tyler faces the opposition of his parents who are not at all keen on him becoming embroiled in any way with such a person and when local girl Michelle fixes her sights on him in a very possessive way, his life becomes even more complicated.
What starts out as simple swimming lessons, becomes a friendship marked by true empathy and compassion and as Tyler works his way through helping Spider, he also works his way through his own (relatively inconsequential) family problems and begins to realise how fragile family relationships can sometimes be. It is such a relief that at the end of some harrowing moments there is a good outcome for Spider but sadly, the statistics reveal that this is not always the case especially for young women. Tyler’s shock when he learns Spider is only 16 – so a year older than himself – is very confronting and will certainly give teen readers some pause for thought.
It is a sobering thought that in so many affluent Western countries the incidence of youth homelessness is on the increase and not only can support agencies find themselves overwhelmed but can also be perceived as contributing to some of the problems. You can read more about youth homeless in Australia here and check out agencies such as the Salvation Army, Mission Australia or Homelessness Australia. The novel concludes with the contact for Centrelink in the UK – the leading youth charity in that country.
I know my readers who love the work of writers such as Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan are going to love this book and it will certainly be top of my book talking list at our next ChocLit meeting.
My highest recommendation for teens from Year 7 upwards.