By Robert Williams
Published by Faber and Faber
ISBN 97805712496 3
Sometimes a novel is so involving that it ceases to be a work of fiction and becomes something alive. There is no magic, fantasy or over-blown action in Robert Williams' debut novel. It's a story of two teenage boys and the bittersweet development of their friendship. That's it. But Williams is a highly impressive writer and this simple story of two teens needing each other will get into your emotions and stay there long after you read the last page.
Luke's mum has been killed in a horrific traffic accident. How is a 13-year-old boy supposed to cope with something as awful as that? His dad has become withdrawn and Luke is largely having to deal with his grief by himself. Luke's father has in fact been letting things go downhill and has not kept up with the payments on their home. As a result, they have to move into a cheap, ramshackle old house on the edge of a small town stuck in the countryside.
Luke is a talented painter and this helps him with the terrible blow life has dealt him. But while he is reaching for his art, Luke watches his father reach for the whisky.
And then Jon shows up. Jon is the same age as Luke and lives with his grandparents a bit further down the hill. Jon is always scruffily and oddly dressed, he looks as if he is a bit simple, and he even smells a bit. He is like a stray puppy that suddenly arrives on Luke's doorstep. He attaches himself to Luke and his dad and won't go away. Jon and Luke are opposites, but Luke finds this strange boy surprisingly comforting company and the two become friends.
But Jon has a secret, and when Luke and his dad discover how he is really living his life, things change for all three of them.
There are moments in Luke and Jon that hurt because they are so real and emotional. The sadness of these two teenage lives will get to any reader. Williams understands both boys very well and feels such empathy for them that there is nothing the reader can do but go along with the emotion.
There are no easy answers in the final pages of Williams' remarkable story. No one arrives out of the blue to sort out Luke and Jon and give them a life that will end happily ever after. Life isn't like that. The final pages aren't an ending, they're a beginning. Life goes on. There are no quick-fix solutions for either boy, but they have each other.
This is an impressive novel about grief, friendship and being human. It is bittersweet, totally true and in places very moving. Williams is a naturally talented young writer who doesn't need any gimmicks to get through to readers. Luke and Jon is a real find that will move you.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com