More information about the Welsh Book Council's chosen book...
Here's Morgan, our editor giving a video review.
Written one available below too!
I enjoy reading but I’m not often gripped by a novel as I was with this one. Sounds a little bit cliché perhaps but it really was impossible to put down. It's not like anything I've read in Welsh before. The novels urban location, based on a block of flats within an estate reminds me of the TV drama This is England – but of course this is special to us in Wales and much better!
The information on The Lolfa’s website does not do this novel justice: "Tom is 15 years old and his life is complicated." Well, that’s an understatement! I much prefer Manon Steffan Ros’s description. She calls it "exciting, risky and totally unique." It is unique.
Tom, our 15-year-old main character suffers from the usual teenage angst you’d expect in a novel for this age group, but it does have a few interesting twists. For one, he is obsessed with cleanliness and despises germs. This is something that is addressed later in the book.
Tom lives on the Caercoed estate in Grangetown. I'm thrilled with Cynan Llwyd's descriptions of the area – he immerses us in day-to-day life on the estate. It portrays the deprivation and poverty as well as the general struggle of life there. Despite the bleakness, there’s a lot of love in Tom's house, and the two have a strong bond. His mother, who is a single parent, works day and night to scrape a living and to put chicken nuggets on the table. Money is tight and you can’t help but feel sorry for them.
The descriptions are blunt and raw. They do not attempt to conceal the undesirable aspects. For example, when he finds a dead cat, he describes: "I think I have dealt with it well despite the blood, the guts, the stench and the deformity.”
The novel discussed a number of topical themes. There is poverty, yes, and gangs, violence, murder, drugs and racism, but in the midst of all this, there is also friendship and comradery amongst neighbours. Tom is big friends with Dai, a man in his eighties, and they share a love of comics. Tom's best friend is Ananya, and they are close. Her family, the Khans, are originally from Bangladesh, and they suffer some racial abuse in the story. But more than this, the novel portrays a modern and multicultural Wales where different races and religions co-exist together despite many social inequalities.
Going back to that overly simplistic description of the novel, I agree, his life is complex. He finds himself being dragged deeper into the world of the gangs and he sees and does things that are very distressing. Indeed, it puts his very life in danger. No more spoilers, I promise!
Maybe there are too many descriptions at times, and personally I would have liked a different ending. The tension, and the drama had been built to such an extent, I was sure that something terrible was going to happen, but the swift, tidy ending was somewhat disappointing. I wanted the novel to be darker towards the end.
The South-Walian dialect of the book was easy enough to understand (even for a Gog such as myself) and I was very happy to see a number of English words (italicised) rather than using a number of stiff, artificial-sounding Welsh words. As a result, the story flows naturally. I liked the ' social media chatroom ' sections and the use of bullet points to summarise some descriptions. Why not? - It reduces the reading burden but conveys all the information simply and quickly.
I hope another book is on it’s way from the author, and I would be surprised if this does not appear on the GCSE syllabus soon. It’s about time for us to have a modern, powerful, city-based novel on the curriculum that is more relevant to the youth of today than Y Stafell Ddirgel. (No offence to Marion Eames of course!)