It’s hugely heartening that Young Adult fiction is alive and well and flourishing in Scotland, with recent examples, including Helen MacKinven’s Talk Of The Toun, Claire McFall’s Ferryman, Daniel Shand’s Crocodile, Moira McPartlin’s Star Of Hope and Ross Sayers’ Mary’s The Name, among the very best.
The latest, published by champions of the genre, Cranachan, is Ross Sayers’ follow up to Mary’s The Name, Sonny And Me and the bottom line is it’s simply a fantastic read no matter what label is applied to it. It’s exactly the book I wish was available when I was a teenage reader (although you don’t need to be a teenager to read it) as it accurately and believably portrays not only what it’s like to be that age but what it’s like to interact with an increasingly adult world which you can see heave into view all too quickly. It’s also in a language and setting which is immediately relatable and anyone who thinks that isn’t important is wrong
That ‘inbetweener’ age which pulls in different directions is perfectly portrayed – wanting to be a kid for just a bit longer, with all the freedom and fantasy that entails, and an increasing desire to be part of this apparently mystical club of ‘grown-ups’ (and what a useless term that is) with its ages of consent, forbidden establishments, and being able to speak your mind and not get sent to your room.
The narrator is Daughter who we are introduced to along with his best friend Sonny, and immediately they find themselves in a situation which could go all sorts of wrong. It’s a scenario which exemplifies the time when the innocence of childhood clashes with the growing awareness that the adult world carries more judgement and condemnation than has previously been the case, and that behaviour which may have been dismissed as (as Frank McAvennie might say) “daft-boyness” will have greater consequences the older they get.
Imagine The Inbetweeners meets Alan Bissett’s seminal 2001 novel Boyracers and you have some idea as to Sonny And Me. It’s arguably, and I am happy to argue it with you, the best Scottish coming of age novel since. It is funny, thrilling, and entertaining, but more importantly it’s honest and unflinching. Fair play to both writer and publisher in not diluting the language in any way, a decision which pays off in spades. This is writing which feels vital and real.
There is more than a little of the classic teen cinema of John Hughes in evidence as well, with friendships strengthened through detention, unrequited and unspoken crushes, clubs and cliques, and cliches which are played with and often overturned. The comparison shows that the teenage experience (at least in the western world) is not so different. Another film reference I would point you in the direction of is Rian Johnson’s superb Brick – a high-school noir crime caper which blurs the lines between childhood and adulthood in a similar manner to Sonny And Me. Both have a serious crime as an important plot point experienced through young adult eyes, with the attitude, language, and point of view to match.
Sonny And Me is one of the best books you’ll read this year. At its considerable heart it is a book about friendship, those which are not calculated or carefully considered but which just happen – the connections made naturally not knowingly. If you’re the age of Sonny and Daughter then you’ll recognise all too vividly what they experience and have to deal with. If you used to be Sonny and/or Daughter (and that’s surely all of us) it’ll all come flooding back.
It’s about the experience of being a teenager and all too often, and all too quickly, that time can be forgotten, but it is important we remember and Ross Sayer has written a novel which will help you do just that. By all means buy a copy for the book-loving teenager in your life, but make sure you read it as well. It will not only help you understand them better, but also yourself.