Laurence Roach leads a life that is, sadly, beset with the sort of problems familiar to many teenagers. Fifteen years old, Laurence lives with his alcoholic, abusive mother and his adorable, but rather crazy, younger brother Jay. Effectively acting as a parent to the latter, Jay has to fend off the attentions of ‘nosy Nelly’ next door, not to mention keep up the pretence that everything is fine when he’s at school. But things are decidedly not fine once his mother disappears. Will his attempts to win an all-expenses paid holiday on a local radio show, plus the help of the sparky Mina from school, make everything OK again?
15 Days Without A Head is a grim, hard hitting tale, but leavened with the right amount of humour to make it an uplifting one too. Scenes of real heartbreak are juxtaposed with moments of pure slapstick to great effect. We’re rooting for Laurence from page one, and the portrayal of his affectionate relationship with Jay, plus the turbulent one with his mother, is sensitively handled. Rather than invite us to condemn the boys’ mother, in telling the tale through Laurence’s eyes, we learn that there’s more going on than a simple case of neglect and bad parenting.
This is a highly accomplished debut, and I defy anyone not to be moved by this funny, sad and page turning tale. A new talent has very much arrived on the YA scene, and it will be interesting to see what Cousins does next.