Troublemakers by Catherine Barter (Andersen Press) is a political coming of age story about memory and the stories that ground us and bind us to our past and our families. It’s beautifully written and had a place in my heart within the first few pages.
‘In three years I will be able to vote and I will still have less power than I did at the moment that I saw that email, which was such a tiny thing but look what happened. Fifteen-year-old Alena never really knew her political activist mother, who died when she was a baby. She has grown up with her older half-brother Danny and his boyfriend Nick in the east end of London. Now the area is threatened by a bomber who has been leaving explosive devices in supermarkets. It is only a matter of time before a bomb goes off. Against this increasingly fearful backdrop, Alena seeks to discover more about her past, while Danny takes a job working for a controversial politician. As her family life implodes, and the threat to Londoners mounts, Alena starts getting into trouble. Then she does something truly rebellious.’
Alena is a fantastic character walking that thin line between adolescence and adulthood and trying to find her balance. Barter has aced her thoughts and her uncertainties and her anger, doing a wonderful job of portraying Alena’s struggle with her own self-awareness. She knows she is behaving like a brat but she embraces it and allows herself to be angry and to sulk and to argue her point. She is a fierce young woman and an awesome role model, flaws and all.
Troublemakers works as an introduction to political thinking for teens. Its storyline about integrity in political campaigning is something I don’t recall ever coming across in a book before and something I wish I’d have read as a teen. I loved the beautifully casual inclusion within Troublemakers, but also that it doesn’t shy away from talking honestly about homophobia and the fear of otherness and the way this fear is directly linked to the politics of our time. It doesn’t preach but it does shine a light and suggests that there is another way, a better way to be. It is a hugely hopeful and inspiring book, encouraging our young people to expect better. To demand better.
I was reading this book on my phone when the news app notifications told me of the Manchester bomb attack. It was the perfect book to help me through all the emotions I’m sure we all felt on that night and the days that followed. Perfect because reading this book was a little like having someone holding my hand and saying it’s all going to be ok. Saying, ‘yes, this world is messy and screwed up and life is hard and confusing but ultimately, the best thing we can do to combat that is to be the best version of ourselves and stand up in the face of it all and try and make the world a better place’. It is very much a book that celebrates individuality and the braveness of being yourself. It is warm and hopeful and truthful and just might change the world.
You can get your copy here.
Source – e-copy kindly sent for review by Penguin Random House.