Orangeboy has been on my radar since it was longlisted for this year’s Jhalak Prize, and the book has gone on to be Costa shortlisted and recently won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for Older Children. When I arrived at my writing retreat this week it was staring at me from the bookshelf and reading seems like a valid method of procrastination (in lieu of TV, housework, etc., all unavailable at the moment).
The book opens at a fairground in Hackney. Sixteen year old sci-fi geek Marlon is there with Sonya, an older girl who he knows is out of his league. He can’t believe his luck, and goes along with it when she offers him his first pill, but the date ends with Sonya dead and Marlon in police custody after being caught with Sonya’s pills in his pocket. What was Sonya up to, and what killed her?
As it turns out, Marlon’s older brother, Andre, was well known to the police. Up to this point, he’s done a good job of keeping his promise to his mum that he won’t follow that path. The problem is that someone else has plans for Marlon, only he doesn’t know who, though he suspects that its to do with Andre. Marlon’s dad died when he was younger, and so it’s just him and his mum. Andre is still around but barely – he lives in a home following a car crash which left his best friend dead and Andre with a serious brain injury. He’s the only person who might know what’s going on, only he doesn’t even recognise Marlon half of the time, let alone remember who might hold a grudge against him.
I loved the character development throughout the novel. Marlon starts off as a geeky sci-fi fan, doing well at school, missing his dad and the brother he used to have, and hanging out with best mate Tish who lives across the street. Part of Lawrence’s skill is showing how pressure and expectation can build up and force people into making reckless decisions. Issues concerning drugs, gangs, weapons etc. are given black and white coverage in the news – you get involved and you’re bad. But Lawrence has a full palette of grey, and there is no stereotypical lazy characterisations here. Everyone has a reason for being the way they are.
Forget that this is YA – this is a great book that deserves its accolades.