Needle, Patrice Lawrence’s latest YA novel for Barrington Stoke is a compelling and unforgettable read exploring the issues and difficulties faced by young people growing up in care. A short but profoundly affecting novella this is a book to read in one sitting and talk about at length.
Fifteen year old Charlene has lived in foster homes since the death of her mother and has been separated from her younger sister, Kandi, since then too. Grief stricken and angry Charlene comforts herself by knitting, the counting and concentration calming her troubled thoughts. She is knitting a special dinosaur blanket for Kandi, a true labour of love, every stitch made with care and thoughts of the sister she so wants to be reunited with.
Moved from home to home as things don’t work out Charlene is now living with her foster mother, Annie, who is understanding and supportive. However Annie’s son who is usually away at university resents Charlene’s presence and when on a trip home he taunts her and destroys the blanket which means so much to her Charlene explodes with the anger she can not control and finds herself in police custody. The odds are now stacked firmly against her and her future looks bleak.
Told in a first person narrative Charlene’s voice has a powerful intensity coupled with a heartbreaking neediness hidden beneath the surface which is utterly compelling. Needle is a book that I opened standing in the kitchen, wandered to a chair to read further and did not look up until I had finished. The writing makes you care and want things to be better for Charlene. There were times when I felt frustration at some of the choices she made, however when you look at her back story her choices are understandable. She has lost the security she craved and her life feels out of control. The characterisation is excellent, both of the young people involved and the adults making the decisions on their behalf.
This would be an excellent book to use from Year 8 upward to provoke conversations and thoughtful discussion about our criminal justice system, social care and society’s expectations and attitudes.
Barrington Stoke have ensured that this book is accessible to a wide range of readers and is presented in a dyslexia friendly format. Although suitable in content for aged teens it has been edited to a reading age of 8. Perfect for readers who struggle a little but also a quick read and engaging read for more confident teens too.
I should like to thank the publishers for my proof copy. Needle was published on 5th May and is available to purchase on the Barrington Stoke website.