‘How long had this fight been going on? It felt like for ever. I mean, North and South Crong were just two grimy council estates where most fams had a gas card, an electric key and they didn’t want their kids to end up in the biscuit factory, stacking shelves in the supermarket or selling extra-large colas down the bowling alley. So how were they so different?’
‘My mum told me I was named after her Scottish granddad, Danny McKay.’
Instead of being a direct continuation, ‘Crongton Knights’ is a companion novel to ‘Liccle Bit’. Lemar, Jonah and Venetia are still a huge part of the story, but it’s great to get to know McKay a little better!
When Venetia breaks up with her older boyfriend Sergio, she’s devastated. Not because of the split, but because he stole her phone, which had intimate photos of her on it – photos that he took on his phone, without her permission, and sent to her.
Bit comes up with a plan: the gang can roll up to Sergio’s place, ask him for Venetia’s phone back, and if he refuses then they’ll take it from him… Forcibly. Then they’ll take his phone, too, just to be certain that all of the evidence is deleted.
McKay and Jonah are both apprehensive. Sergio lives in Notre Dame, an estate the other side of North Crong, and with Manjaro still on the run tension between the gangs is higher than ever. Just setting foot outside South Crong is seen as asking for a beating.
Bit’s always been a good friend to McKay. He supported him when his mother died by letting him live with him for a few days, so he owes his bruv. McKay decides to overcome his nerves and take part in the mission.
After that it doesn’t take much to persuade Jonah: he doesn’t want to be the odd one out, and new girl Saira is going along – he’s sure that his bravery will help him score with her.
But McKay has a lot going on at home. Since his mother’s death, his brother Nesta has been struggling to control his temper, and after some members of the North Crong gang attempt to steal his bicycle he puts one of them in hospital. Then there are the debt collectors banging on the door every morning, despite the fact that his dad is working more overtime than seems physically possible…
I can’t fault this novel.
‘Liccle Bit’ moved at a slow pace, but ‘Crongton Knights’ is a modern take on the traditional quest plot and I absolutely loved every page. McKay refers to houses as castles and doors as drawbridges, which means the bus must be the trusty steed that they ride into battle: a humorous way of looking at a stupidly dangerous task.
The events take place over just 48 hours, so there isn’t any downtime. It’s impossible to put this book down, and you can feel your heart racing as the gang find themselves in countless sticky situations on their journey to and from Notre Dame. I’m used to feeling this fear while reading fantasy or science fiction novels, so to experience it in a contemporary novel – all be it a contemporary set in a fake location – really drives home the terror that residents of gang-filled areas must feel on a daily basis.
The relationship between family and gang is further explored, which I’d been hoping for after enjoying that aspect in ‘Liccle Bit’. Nesta isn’t part of any gang – he’s a bit of a loner – but his actions get McKay dragged into a life-threatening situation.
“This all started with me… Sorry for getting you bruvs caught up in this macho drama.”
“You were only defending yourself,” I said.
“Yeah.” Nesta nodded. “But look what it led to. Sorry.”
Alex Wheatle’s a genius at showing how everyone is involved in the gang in some way, and mostly not by choice. His writing makes you reevaluate the way you feel about teenagers involved in real life gangs, and that empathy is important: it’s not fair to completely ostracise young people without understanding their motives, because they may be defending themselves or their families. This is most apparent in Venetia, who has no choice but to act in a situation she never should have been placed in.
This story is the definition of gripping. If you want to read a short book with well-crafted, realistic characters, I recommend nothing more highly than ‘Crongton Knights’.