Whatever you do, don’t lose focus in this dystopian version of London in Concentr8 [Review]

Whatever you do, don’t lose focus in this dystopian version of London in Concentr8 [Review]


By William Sutcliffe
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 1 4088 6624 5

Set in a not-too-distant future London, William Sutcliffe’s Concentr8 is a challenging and thought-provoking read for older teens. It’s a disturbing story acted out in a time of social collapse, gang culture and desperation. There is no joy in Sutcliffe’s vision of the future.

Let’s roll back the clock a few years. The city’s authorities were growing more and more concerned because research has shown that at least ten per cent of children and teens are affected by ADHD.

What was once thought merely individual bad behaviour now had a label. The condition is characterised by poor performance in the classroom and antisocial behaviour at home. The main medicine prescribed for serious ADHD is the drug Ritalin. In Sutcliffe’s story, Concentr8 is a new prescription drug that is more effective than Ritalin.

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It isn’t long before every troubled and under-performing teenager is on Concentr8. It is pushed by the drugs industry and lauded by authorities. One pill a day, and all teens behave.

Friends Troy, Femi, Lee, Karen and Blaze have been taking Concentr8 for ever. Blaze is the leader of their little group, Troy is the side-kick, and the others fit in around them. Life isn’t perfect, but it is calm and the days just roll by. But what happens to a city full of teens on meds when the authorities decide to stop prescribing their “normaliser”?

Well, London pretty much explodes. As Troy puts it, “when they took away Concentr8 they must have known it was like shaking up a Coke can and flipping the ring-pull”.

Angry teens take to the streets and riots break out. Blaze and his gang are not looking for trouble, but they make one stupid move that focuses the attention of the whole country on the drama they cause.

They pick an innocent passer-by, threaten him with a knife, drag him off to an abandoned warehouse and chain him to a radiator. They have got themselves a hostage, but don’t know what they want or why they did it.

Over the six days that follow, a journalist, the city mayor, a police negotiator, and a drugs industry rep all get involved in the tense situation. Sutcliffe tells the story from multiple points of view, and this fragments the tension a little, but doesn’t stop Concentr8 from gripping like a vice.

Here we have a violent and blistering contemporary read that offers drama and thrills while raising emotive and powerful questions about where society could be heading. YA novels like Concentr8 certainly disturb, but that’s something a good book can and should do. You have been warned!

John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Whatever you do, don’t lose focus in this dystopian version of London


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