I’m happy to be taking my turn today on the blog tour for LOCKS by Ashleigh Nugent. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachels Random Resources for my place on the tour and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
“1993 was the year that Stephen Lawrence got murdered by racists, and I became an angry Black lad with a ‘chip on his shoulder’.”
Aeon is a mixed-race teenager from an English suburb. He is desperate to be understand the Black identity foisted on him by racist police, teachers, and ‘friends’. For want of Black role models, Aeon has immersed himself in gangsta rap, he’s trying to grow dreadlocks, and he’s bought himself some big red boots.
And now he’s in Jamaica.
Within days of being in Jamaica, Aeon has been mugged and stabbed, arrested and banged up.
Aeon has to fight for survival, fight for respect, and fight for his big red boots. And he has to fight for his identity because, here, Aeon is the White boy.
What to say about this book? It’s such a difficult one to review because there are so many layers to excavate in this story and they are so hard to convey, it is really a book you need to experience for yourself before you can understand what it is really about.
On the surface, this is the story of a teenage boy, Aeon, who feels the need to escape from his life in the suburban area of Liverpool where he doesn’t feel like he fits in. His mother is white and his father is black and this makes him stand out, subjecting him to negative attention, prejudice and racial slurs. In order to try and find himself, he decides to travel to Jamaica, his father’s birthplace, to try and find his roots. He is a young boy, struggling to establish an identity for himself, as all teenagers do when they haven’t really worked out who they are and are trying on different personas for size, but magnified by his heritage which makes him stand out against his will. Unfortunately, when he gets to Jamaica, he finds he doesn’t really fit in there either and he sense of disorientation about who he is is further compounded.
Aeon is desperate for something to change, he talks about ‘making something happen’ throughout the book and goes looking for adventure. He is on a ‘hero’s quest’ as described to him by his English teacher, who he clearly idolises as one person who has always defended and supported him in the face of a fairly hostile world. However, his quest for adventure gets him into serious trouble in Jamaica, a place completely alien, where he finds that the tough persona he has developed in Liverpool isn’t cutting it. A real ‘fish out of water’ story.
You can’t help but feel for Aeon throughout the book. We all went through that time in our lives feeling like we didn’t know who we are or where we fitted, and this book will bring those memories vividly to life and give you complete empathy for Aeon and the trouble he brings on himself with his rashness and poor decision-making. He is calling out for guidance, which he isn’t getting from his cousin, Instance, who has accompanied him on the trip and is grappling with his own internal demons. However, there is a twisted, tender relationship between Instance and Aeon that again is recognisable to anyone who recognises that blood is thicker than water, even in the most trying of circumstances.
The author’s writing is vivid, tender, brutal and poetic all at once, and really captures the pathos of this story, which I am sure is down to the fact that is is partly autobiographical, but the talent exhibited here cannot be ignored. The imagery jumps off the page in 3D form, and pulls the reader into the heart of the story so you are living it along with Aeon, which is not always a pleasant experience but always feels authentic.
This book was a really moving and affecting read that made me feel like I had experienced something important and truthful when I had finished it. An insight into the conflict that rages within young people who stand out for the crowd and stumble trying to find a place in the world. A powerful coming-of-age story that will appeal to anyone with curiosity, imagination and empathy. In fact, the only people I can imagine won’t like it are the Jamaican Tourist Board.
LOCKS is out now in paperback and ebook formats and you can buy a copy here.
Please do follow the rest of the tour for other reviews and other great content:
About the Author
Ashleigh Nugent has been published in academic journals, poetry anthologies, and magazines. His latest work, LOCKS, is based on a true story: the time he spent his 17th birthday in a Jamaican detention centre. LOCKS won the 2013 Commonword Memoir Competition and has had excerpts published by Writing on the Wall and in bido lito magazine.
Ashleigh’s one-man-show, based on LOCKS, has won support from SLATE / Eclipse Theatre, and won a bursary from Live Theatre, Newcastle. The show has received rave audience reviews following showings in theatres and prisons throughout the UK.
Ashleigh is also a director at RiseUp CiC, where he uses his own life experience, writing, and performance to support prisoners and inspire change.
Connect with Ashleigh: