The Blurb On The Back:
I pick up the envelope … As I rip down the sides, there’s loads of paper bursting out; stuck on flowers, dandelions, roses …
Spey recently received two surprises. The first: his ex-prisoner dad turning up unannounced, and the second: a mysterious package containing torn-up paper flowers.
Spey instantly recognises it as a collage he made with his old friend Dee, and decides she must be in danger, but there are no clues to her whereabouts.
There’s only one person he knows who can help to track her down …
On a road trip like no other, will Spey and his dad find Dee, before it’s too late?
SPLINTERS OF SUNSHINE was released in the United Kingdom on 19th August 2021. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s Christmas Eve.
15-year-old Spey hasn’t been looking forward to spending Christmas with his mum, Gilda. Last year she was really upset when his older sister, Fi, chose to stay in Japan rather than come home. Spey was worried when Fi decided to do the same again this year but his mum seems to be handling it better and as a bonus they’re not spending Christmas Day with his grandmas, aunts and uncles – all of whom are in competition on who has the smartest child who will get the best exam results – although they’re still supposed to go on Boxing Day. As a result, he’s now looking forward to a chilled out day, eating and watching movies …
Then he wakes up on Christmas morning to find a strange man sleeping on the sofa: it’s his dad Benni who’s been in prison since Spey was born. Benni seems intent on trying to make things right with Spey, but Spey isn’t sure that he’s ready for that, even if his dad has given him a sweet pair of Jordans as a present. Spey also gets a mysterious package containing a collage of torn up flowers. There’s no note but Spey knows exactly who it’s from: his old friend Dee, who he lost contact with 8 years ago when his mum moved them away from the council estate they both lived on.
Dee was a peculiar kid, fascinated by flowers and plants but frequently bullied by the other kids in their primary school and punished by the teachers. Her only defender was her grandmother, who was a bit of a legend on the estate and who died a couple of years ago. Since then Spey’s only seen Dee a couple of times but each time he was worried that she was in trouble. Receiving the torn up collage – one that the pair of them had made together – makes him determined to track her down and make sure she’s okay. With his mum committed to spending Boxing Day with her family, the only person who can help is Benni, who is delighted to have an opportunity to spend time with him, even though Dee is mixed up with some nasty people who aren’t easy to find …
Patrice Lawrence’s 5th YA novel is a well-plotted, self-standing contemporary thriller about county lines drug dealing and absentee fathers that never feels judgmental. The first person narrative voices for both Spey and Dee are pitch perfect (particularly Spey’s wry comments about being the light-skinned, black son of a single white mother) and his awkward interactions with Benni (last seen in EIGHT PIECES OF SILVA) ring true.
Patrice Lawrence has a real gift for writing YA first person narration. Both Dee and Spey’s chapters feel like they’re written by real teenagers and I especially enjoyed Spey’s wry observations about being one of only a handful of black kids in his secondary school and the talks he has with his white mother, who is trying to make sure she’s doing right by her son even if that can be excruciating. Spey’s emotional reaction to the sudden – and unexpected – arrival of his father, Benedict feels very true – especially his confusion and resentment. Similarly Dee’s sections, which focus on her love of flowers and detail what happened to her to lead her to work in county lines drug dealing is sensitive and heart breaking when it comes to the scenes with her mother. I would have liked some scenes from her point of view with her aunt Janet because we only get Janet’s perspective later on of their relationship, but this is a minor gripe.
Benni was last seen in EIGHT PIECES OF SILVA, trying to make things right with his daughter Becks. I really enjoyed his return here and I have to say that Lawrence does an outstanding job of depicting a man who recognises that he has not done right by his children and now wants to while also showing that he’s still human and capable of making mistakes. A scene where he talks to Spey about life in prison is really well done and I found the letters that he dictates in the book to be very moving and bring a real depth to his character. There is a hint at the end of the book that Lawrence’s 6th book may involve a trip to Scotland and see Benni connect with another of his children and I would absolutely be here for that.
The plot here revolves around country lines drug dealing, a subject that I’ve seen discussed in newspapers but not in YA fiction. Lawrence does a good job of showing what this is, how it’s operated and how teens get into it. The introduction of Astrid – a teenage girl who was used in a county lines operation – shows how people can be tempted into it, just as Dee is used to show how people can be threatened into it. I did want more from Astrid and her uncle Sol (who makes it his mission to track down county lines operations after what happened with Astrid), partly because of the chemistry between Spey and Astrid but also because they provide some more background on Benni – in fact I would have rather had the book focus on them than bring in Astrid’s father Richie because his beef with Benni had a bit of a rushed feel to it and I wanted it more drawn out. While Lawrence doesn’t shrink from showing the bleakness involved in county lines, she also shows that even some of the worst people involved are human as well, particularly with regard to Chez, who both Dee and Spey know from primary school.
All in all, the plot moves quickly, the narrative voices are spot on and Lawrence deals with a difficult subject with humanity. As one of the best YA writers working at the moment, I will definitely check out her next novel.