BOOK REVIEW: London Belongs To Us by Sarra Manning
Allen & Unwin
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
“Can one night change your life? I think it can. Or, at least, it can change the direction that your life was going in.”
Sunny is a vivacious seventeen year old girl of mixed race living in London, “a city of eight million people. Eight million lives. Eight million stories.” With her Mum and brother away, Sunny’s young life is about to get turned on its head. An adventure will ensue, an adventure which will make her see herself in a completely different light and possibly set the tone for the rest of her life.
Sarra Manning has used her own “wild teen years” as the template for this coming-of-age story, sending Sunny on an adventure through north and south London on buses, trains, ‘borrowed’ bikes and foot, and it’s an exhaustively fun ride indeed.
Having lived in London AND been a teenager (albeit that experience now dwells in the “once upon a time” realm), London Belongs To Us brought back a multitude of memories. Memories of Clapham and Covent Garden, Camden and Soho, Notting Hill and Chelsea, Mayfair and South Bank (all of which get their own little potted history lesson at the start of each relevant chapter.) Memories of the complex interpersonal relationships that our teenage years construct around us, complete with the lack of world experience to comprehend liars and cheats, the insecurity and awkwardness most of us felt at the time, and the moods that rise and fall as we try to negotiate these treacherous waters.
More than that, as a father now, it’s a story which I think is applicable to teenagers in all countries – and not just girls – with strong themes of friendship, tolerance, honesty and being true to yourself. Best of all is some of the life-affirming reminders Manning includes, especially as Sunny’s galavant winds down and she realises she has learnt much:
“Everyone hides. Everyone puts on a front. Everyone has those moments when they’re lonely or scared or not the best versions of themselves.”
“Bitch is just a word that boys say when they don’t have the power to hurt you any more.”
Manning makes sure the message here is subtle enough to sink in, and blatant enough not to be missed or confused: accept your shortcomings, and those of others around you – but not to the point of being used and abused. That’s one message I want my daughter to learn as young as possible. My daughter, and all the other daughters and sons as well.
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