Straight Outta Crongton by Alex Wheatle

The Blurb On The Back:

Round these ends, it’s hard to hold on to your dreams.

Life’s a constant hustle for Mo.  Her mum’s boyfriend Lloyd is just another man who likes to beat down women; the South Crong streets are fraught with hazards and nasty G’s; and when it comes to matters of the heart … she’s still hung up on Sam.  No wonder she’s vexed so much of the time.

Thank God her sisters, Elaine and Naomi, are on her side.

But when badness goes down and a life is let handing in the balance, Mo has to face her hot urge for revenge … and she might end up losing more than she wins.

You can order STRAIGHT OUTTA CRONGTON by Alex Wheatle from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

15 year old Maureen “Mo” Baker lives with her mum and her mum’s boyfriend, Lloyd, in a flat on the second floor of Slipe House in South Crongton.  Lloyd is just the latest in a series of loser, no-good men her mum has dated and Mo hates how her mum lets Lloyd have his way on everything, giving him the last notes from her purse and not even chucking him out when he smacked Mo around the face. 

It’s not like Mo didn’t already have enough to deal with.  The only boy she’s ever loved – her next door neighbour and best friend Sam – is dating Shevray Clarke who has a great body and is probably sleeping with him.  Thankfully she’s got her best friends Elaine and Naomi, who back her up and have her back but it sucks to have no real money, no proper dad and a mum who isn’t interested in looking after her.  Plus Crongton sucks as a town, with the continuing warfare between the North and South gangs and the gang members constantly looking to get new members, using their money and status to try and impress the girls in the town.

When Mo’s domestic problems spiral out of control and leave Sam in a coma, Mo finds herself consumed by thoughts of revenge, even if that means hooking up with the same gang members she’d usually avoid like the plague …

The third in Alex Wheatle’s YA CRONGTON SEQUENCE has a wonderful narrative voice that reads authentically and does a great job of portraying female teenage friendship and the chaotic and difficult life on an estate.  I was less convinced by some of Mo’s decisions in the final quarter of the book, mainly because I needed a bit more consideration of her thinking, but it’s still a good read and I will definitely check out the rest of the Sequence.

Probably the number one reason to read this book is because Mo has a great first person narrative voice.  Wheatle uses slang that sounds convincing and the dialogue between her, Elaine and Naomi really crackles as they swap banter, bicker and show their love for each other.  The forthright Elaine with her sense of right and wrong serves as the moral backbone of the trio while Naomi has led a more chaotic life, having been taken into care due to having an alcoholic father and lost a close friend to gang warfare.  None of the girls has a lot of money and they’re not above sneaking into cinemas or occasionally shop lifting clothes if they have to, but the way they love and support each other really comes through just as they way they sometimes get irritated with each other does too.

The friendship stands as a real contrast to Mo’s home life.  The scenes between her and her mother are difficult to read at times – especially towards the end of the book when Mo makes some discoveries about her home life.  The way she talks to her mum is understandable but equally difficult to read at times.  So too is her antagonism with Lloyd and although he is not a good man but Wheatle does leave open whether Lloyd is – as Mo’s mum claims – trying to turn his life around after a spell in prison and it’s clear that Mo is determinedly antagonistic to him, which puts some of her behaviour into shades of grey.  (I am not saying this excuses what happens to her, but Wheatle does show that things aren’t always clear cut).

Mo’s relationship with Sam is sweetly depicted but again, there’s that underlying sense of ambiguity given Sam’s relationship with Shevray.  One of the things that makes Mo and her friends so interesting is how they’re all determined not to give up sex to boys and not become single mothers but also how Mo demands that Sam end things with Shevray before she’ll go public with him.  I did wish that this had been resolved more firmly in the book because it gets superseded a little by events in the final quarter.

Wheatle does a good job at showing how Mo is quick to anger and in an emotionally volatile state throughout the book, partly because of her home situation and partly because of the state of her relationship with Sam.  That said, when the critical event happens and Sam ends up in a coma, I wasn’t quite convinced by Mo’s decision to fall in with the plans of one of the South Crongton gangs, partly because Wheatle had established that she was quite ambiguous about them and frightened by what they could do.  I was similarly unconvinced by 2 further decisions by Mo at the end of the book just because they seemed to come out of nowhere and didn’t quite fit in with what we’d seen of Mo’s character before and there was no explanation for them from Mo herself for why she made them.

The pacing of the book is also slightly lopsided, with the main event not happening until the halfway stage.  This didn’t really bother me because I enjoyed the set up of the different relationships, but again it does mean that the final quarter feels a bit rushed with Mo’s decisions existing to serve the plot rather than feeling organic to her character.

My criticisms aside, I did enjoy reading this.  The dialogue crackles with wit and energy, the friendships were convincing and I did believe in these girls and their respective situations.  Certainly there was enough here to make me want to check out the other books in the CRONGTON SEQUENCE (certainly I didn’t feel that I needed to read the previous two books in order to understand this one as it works entirely as a standalone).   

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