In early 2007, when was I but a confused A Level student studying at my high school Sixth Form, my English Language group had the great opportunity to meet an author, Kevin Brooks. Still an up-and-coming author then, he was on the road to promote his brand new book, Being, and had come to, of all places, my school to share some of his stories and possible put a few of us off ever wanting to be writers.
I can’t recall much of the discussion, or the Q&A that forwarded – although I did ask him a rather good question that earned a thought provoking answer from him plus a signed copy of his book, but I do remember one important thing that has stayed with me these many months. During his discussion he hinted at latest work, the book he was then still finishing, was about teenagers and their golden age. At the time he seemed slightly unsure whether the concept was something a lot of teenagers could relate too, but I remember me eyes widening and bobbing my head in agreement as he alluded to some of the reasons behind his ideas.
Sixth Form was hard graft from me – on a personal level and social level. My best friend and partner in crime, who I’d known since reception (kindergarten for my North American pals out there), had moved to Surrey which meant that I hardly ever saw him. With so many people leaving after high school social groups changed and people were a lot more accepting of each other in ‘Sixth Form’. However, I just don’t think I settled. There was my core group of friends – some of which left themselves after a year, the mutual friends I knew from lessons and about the school, and then there was the small group – of comparatively new friends – I found myself getting closer and closer to each day. Carefree times. Fun times. Good times. Back then it never felt like the good times would end…
I promised myself that the moment Kevin Brook’s novel on his self-styled teenage ‘golden age’ was released I would track down a copy to relieve myself of at least some of the uncertainty I felt back then. I don’t know. Past memories, old feelings, broken promises. Everything was horribly persistent then and things only seem to have gotten worst over the years. Change. The people I knew aren’t who they once were. I’m not sure if I ever really did know them? Well, pulling the book out from the bottom of the box it’s been in since February last year, I’ve manage to find some comfort in Black Rabbit Summer.
A seemingly unthreatening synopsis that doesn’t even begin to touch the base of this book’s astounding spirit can be read on its blurb. Quite honestly, this story of loss, love, reminisce and the dark side of teenage desire has rightly won my approval as the most relatable and unsettling book I’ve read this year thus far.
Pete Boland, the unknowing, self-doubting sixteen year old, is the story’s main protagonist, and, in what seems to be a trademark of Brook’s style, it is all in first-person. The author’s insistent and intentional focus on the confusion and misdirection of his characters is also something that came through in, Being, and is once again prominent here. It’s something that’s not particularly exciting to describe, sentence structure, repetition, alliteration and all that technical English jargon that I’ve now given me life over to, but you feel it nonetheless.
Of course, the story itself is the real meat here and it’s a tantalising mix of modern mystery, lies, conflicting emotions, drug abuse and tragedy. What starts out as a long, lonely, ‘mindless’ summer for Pete soon unravels at the seams as his best friend, Raymond, disappears at the local funfair. Meanwhile, Stella Ross, the talentless schoolgirl heart throb turned nasty celebrity glamour girl, goes missing from the funfair that same night. Worst still, the only reason Pete is there that night, uneasy, bemused and half-drunk, is because his boyhood love, Nicole, invited him to a reunion with the rest of the “old gang” at their bramble-enclosed den – only Pete’s friends aren’t who they us to be any more.
Pacing the story as much more of a tale of personal discovery, the reader follows Pete as he tries to find his friend and uncover the mystery of Stella’s disappearance. Along the way he has to deal with gruff policemen, concerned parents, brutish kids from the Greenway estate and their leader, Wes Campbell, the demented Pauly Gilpin, the sullen Eric Leigh, and slowly learns revelations about the past. The worst thing about it all is that some parts and characters seem frighteningly familiar to me.
You won’t find any secret agents jumping motorbikes over exploding oil tankers, or dry accounts of historical townships… but you will get a story that isn’t afraid to grab your arm and yank it somewhere painful. A story that challenges all those misgivings, regrets and wonders you’ve had if you’ve ever passed an old friend and wished thongs had turned out differently. A story with grimy, tough-to-love characters that delight you one moment, and then shock you the next. A story that pulls your own heart strings for recalls of places, old friends and past emotions. It’s not happy, it’s not pretty, at times it’s downright disturbing, but it’s a masterful representation of teenage life and troubled friendships.
Not the prefect read if you’re looking for a ‘summer of fun’, too sombre for that, but a rewarding departure for anyone looking to strength their emotional mettle with the dominion of personal memories.
Now that I’ve finished the tale, I wonder what Black Rabbit would have to say…
Earth sour-sweet, like the crimson moonlit sky tonight.