Published by Bloomsbury Children’s.
Review by Zakiyah Ahmed.
Charlie Law lives with his parents in Little Town, which lies right next to Old Country. Little Town and Old Country are locked in a constant state of war. The Big Man has always run Little Town and Charlie knows better than to break any of his laws. He keeps his head down, goes to school, loves to read and loves Erin F. But, when a refugee family move to Little Town from Old Country and Charlie Law befriends Pav, it all turns chaotic. This is a story of true friendship, loyalty and Charlie’s decisions; which lead him down a dangerous path. Charlie is the narrator and central character of this novel; his aspirations, dreams and friendship with Pav sheds a beacon of light in the dim and bleak reality that he is stuck in.
As soon as I began to read this novel it became extremely difficult to put it down. It presents us with two young boys, set in the dystopian future where they are both strictly controlled by opposing sides. Thus, this places Charlie and Pav in a sticky situation which shows the reader the perspective of the human suffering and emotion at the heart of all conflicts. Ultimately, this allows them to challenge the authorities that oppress their freedom and opinions to realise that maybe The Big Man isn’t actually the good guy.
Pav and his family are not welcomed in Little Town and Charlie witnesses horrible attacks on them: one by the Rascals and then one at school by the bullies, who severely beat Pav. Charlie and Pav swiftly develop a strong friendship, but when the bombs and armed troops come from Old Country everything quickly changes. Charlie is desperate to teach Pav the lingo of Little Town to be able to fit in, so in turn becomes indebted to the Big Man and is forced to repay it in the most gruesome way.
The simplicity of the language allows a wide range of readers to be able to understand the devastating effects of war on refugees. Although the conflict is set in a fictional world, Little Town and Old Country could easily be interchangeable with the horrors in the Middle East. This allows even children to understand the dystopian world (however there is the odd swearword here and there).
Furthermore, one of the things that I found quite unusual was the lingo of Old Country, and how two towns that lived side by side spoke so differently. Additionally, the portrayal of the female characters seemed a bit demeaning due to the fact that they were only really there for a love story, or to be saved (for instance, Charlie’s mother constantly needs her inhaler, which is one of the reasons why Pav becomes indebted to the Big Man).
Overall, this dystopian novel is gripping and deeply moving. Even though there are some parts that some readers may find unpleasant, it is pleasing that Conaghan included it as it allows the reader to comprehend the reality of our world. I would highly recommend this book as it explores real issues in a simple, accessible style.