Fifteen-year-old Laurence Roach just wants a normal life, but it's not easy when your mum is a depressed alcoholic, and your six-year-old brother thinks he's a dog.
When Mum fails to come home one night, Laurence tells nobody, terrified he and his brother will be taken into care if anyone finds out.
Instead, he attempts to keep up the pretence that Mum is still around: dressing up in her clothes to trick the neighbours and spinning an increasingly complicated tangle of lies.
After two weeks on their own, running out of food and money, and with suspicious adults closing in, Laurence finally discovers what happened to his mother. And that's when the trouble really starts ...
15 Days Without a Head ~ a tall tales & short stories review
I first featured Dave Cousins on this blog in 2010 when he talked about being a discovered SCBWI Undiscovered Voice. (If you don't know much about Undiscovered Voices, tall tales & short stories was part of this year's blog tour so you can find out more in a recent post on the 2012 winners.)
I remember reading the 2010 Undiscovered Voices anthology extract of 15 Days Without a Head and telling others how it had stayed with me. I'm lucky enough to have the opportunity of reading lots of children's and YA books but it's quite rare for a piece of writing to stay with me long after I've read it, but Dave Cousins' extract was memorable and when OUP sent me a copy to review over a year later, the opening pages were still fresh in my mind. So it was with much anticipation I read the book.
Dave Cousins effortlessly creates a realistic world in which his main character, Laurence, lives. I believed, and that's important, and I also believed I was listening to a fifteen-year-old boy. I've read many books that purport to be told from the perspective of a young or teen character but very few convince, and that's crucial to becoming totally involved in the story. And, although this book tackles some very difficult subjects, this is a book full of humour and Laurence's little brother, Jay, is a brilliant, annoying and endearing character - he always made me smile and, in one scene in particular, (I won't say what happens because I don't like spoilers) but I was filled with utter dread and fearing the worst as events unfolded.
15 Days Without a Head deals with some, sadly, all too common issues. Laurence struggles to cope with a depressed single mum who finds it hard to cope. He tries to be a big brother and a dad to Jay, and their relationship is touching but honest. An older brother, especially a teenager, won't always want his baby brother around and most siblings fight and annoy each other and Dave Cousins brings all these feelings to convincing and touching life.
As Laurence and Jay's lives get harder, as pressure mounts and suspicion from other people increases, the inventive plot-line of a radio phone-in competition that runs throughout the story acts as a motivator for Laurence to keep going, to not give up, and much like Laurence, the reader is left wishing and hoping as each misfortune befalls them that this competition will provide the lifeline that the family needs.
Dave Cousins has written a fantastic debut novel; vibrant, moving and not scared to tackle difficult issues with moments of humour. I applaud him for an ending that is believable but not sugar-coated. Life isn't easy and people very rarely, if ever, get the perfect Hollywood ending where everything works out just fine and everyone lives happily ever after - sometimes the end doesn't mean the end but instead offers a new beginning and a sense of hope.