Another author with a glowing rep that has somehow slipped under my radar, Jim Carrington is the Carnegie Medal nominated author of Inside My Head and In the Bag. A glance at the blurb of these two novels suggest Carrington specialises in gritty tales involving difficult moral choices for his complex teenage protagonists. If this is true, then Drive By is no different.
Johnny is a typical sounding teenager: likes to have a laugh with his mates, saddled with an annoying younger sibling and at the age where he wants to impress girls. But when he and his mates decide to get revenge on the 'poisoned dwarf', an old woman who seems to solely exist to scowl at the foursome and spoil their fun, there are fatal consequences. As if the guilty conscience fallout isn't enough, unbeknown to Johnny the girl he's recently falling for, Summer, happens to be the poisoned dwarf's granddaughter.
Unlike the blurb on the back cover may suggest, Drive By is Summer's story as much as it is Johnny's. She is scarred by the loss of her father, frustrated by the absence of her own friends and older sister, and Johnny appears to be just what she needs to brighten up her life. Her narrative is interspersed effectively with Johnny's throughout, and Carrington writes convincingly from both points of view, with both narrators feeling lost and vulnerable for reasons that are different yet ultimately, tragically related.
The strong leads are the main reason for Drive By's success, but Carrington's unfussy style propels the story along at an impressive pace. I'm not normally one for paranormal goings on in contemporary fiction, but the reader is convinced to suspend their disbelief sufficiently to buy in to the passages dealing with mediums and middle of the night bedroom hauntings (though I personally could have done with less of the latter).
There are some minor flaws, mostly an overreliance on coincidence to keep bringing Johnny and Summer together, but they can easily be forgiven. Drive By is a powerful, gripping read that tackles some important themes. In an age where teenagers are casually demonised, this is a tale that asks important questions of how ordinary teenagers react in extraordinary circumstances. Highly recommended.