Unspoken menace stalks almost every chapter of this book. A modern day version of Oliver Twist, it tells the story of brothers Emmanuel and Prince Anatole and deals with the very contemporary issues of child immigration, gun crime and street survival. The brothers find their secure lives suddenly dislocated when violence threatens their African homeland.
Their father, who is clearly well respected in his community, decides, without giving them any reason, to send the boys to safety with their Uncle in England. So begins a terrifying fight for survival, alone, often hungry, in a semi-derelict house in which their Uncle grows strange plants. For some time, Emmanuel, who was charged by their father to look after Prince, is successful both at not being noticed and knowing whom to be extra nice to. Then, one fateful day, a chance comment from Prince sets a terrifying chain of events in motion.
The sophistication of the narrative, and the skill with which violence and menace are insinuated but rarely explicated, makes this book suitable for a wide range of readers. Although aimed at 8 – 12 year old boys, it would be enjoyed by older readers and it would also read very well aloud. Challenging questions are prompted in the reader’s mind, about honesty, integrity, loyalty, freedom and bonds of family and friendship. Avery demonstrates a clear, sympathetic understanding of children’s social hierarchies, the adrenalin rush of committing a successful crime, and the human need to belong, even when the only choice left is belonging to a criminal gang. Or is it the only choice left?
The story ends with hope for Emmanuel and Prince as they find the peace and stability that their badly broken lives crave. Too Much Trouble won the 2010 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Award – it’s hard to believe that such a gripping novel is Avery’s first. I can’t wait for the next.