This week a Twitter debate surfaced regarding the legitimacy of Young Adult fiction (and romance novels) being studied on a Higher Education course. While some users were resoundingly against it (with one even branding it “crap”), others – like me – quickly leapt to the genre’s defence. Personally, I find this sort of book snobbery belittling and absurd but that’s a debate best reserved for another time. I’ve read some extraordinary YA novels (The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas is a prime example) that explore difficult and relevant topics in a way that I don’t believe any other genre could. So, it seemed fitting that I’d be reviewing a YA novel this week and, after my Twitter outburst, I hoped it would be excellent.
The Raven Wheel by A.F. Stone follows the lives of three troubled teenagers as they struggle through adolescence. Rebellious Tye wants to make his dad proud and keep his family from harm. His younger brother, Kian, is bright, awkward and struggling with the absence of his mother. Then there’s Ria, impulsive and wounded (and a sort of anti-heroine), who harbours a secret desire to murder her father as a result of her harrowing past. Their lives collide and spin further out of control.
This is a hard-hitting novel where nothing pleasant happens to any of the characters. Not even one. I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil it for you but if you’re of a nervous disposition (or sad things just generally get you down) then you should probably put this book away and head in the direction of something sunnier.
The Raven Wheel is pitched as a YA novel. I see no problem with this (I was reading way grislier stuff than this courtesy of the public library at a much younger age) but cautious parents might want to have a chat with their offspring (if it was a Netflix series, it would come with a carefully worded trigger warning from the hottest members of the cast) as the narrative touches on some tough subject matter such as child abuse, mental health and murder. As far as I’m concerned, I prefer it when YA delves into grittier topics and the genre is incredibly beneficial for young people as they navigate the world around them.
At times I felt like all the doom and gloom (and violence) was far-fetched with absolutely no one is this tiny little village having a good life or even a reprieve from their problems (I sound like my dad when he struggles to understand my love of Emmerdale). The novel begins strongly but the horrific events stack up like tenuous Jenga bricks and by the middle the narrative was on shaky ground. Luckily, it didn’t come tumbling down.
Having said that I couldn’t stop reading it, devouring the text from cover to cover in the space of two evenings. It’s a compulsive read. What Stone lacks in compassion for her characters (I can’t forgive the author for a character death that shocked me to my core) she makes up for in understanding. Each character is well thought-out and believable with their own desires, motivations, problems and observations. No one is there as a catalyst or surplus to requirement. The dialogue flows well and it’s incredibly perceptive, something which few authors get right – particularly when it’s their debut novel. There’s no adult trying to sound young here (I’m looking at you, The Fault in Our Stars) and I was fully immersed in the story.
So, I’d urge the naysayers to pick up a YA novel occasionally – maybe starting with The Raven Wheel – and discover just how much grit, weight and importance these books hold within their pages.
By Emma Yates-Badley, Literary Editor
The Raven Wheel is published by Book Guild Publishing Ltd and is available to buy now