Jay is fifteen years old and a member of the Blake Street Boyz gang. With a knife in his pocket and his best friend Milk by his side, he spends his time fiercely defending their turf. He takes his lessons from the streets and thinks he knows everything about choices.
Choose the right gang, and they will protect you. Choose the right clothes, the right chat, the right snacks and you will be respected. But now he's coming of age and he's being given the chance to step up. He must stab and kill a member of a rival gang... and there are no choices left.
This is a story set against the backdrop of London's inner-city tower blocks, where killing can be easier than choosing a chocolate bar; where gang violence rules, and where loyalty can cost you your soul.
Fifteen-year-old Jaylon is a member of the east London Blake Street Boyz gang. His every life choice is subject to its laws, right down to what chocolate bar he eats. To move up to the senior level, the Olders, he must stab someone from a rival gang. He's not keen, but it's not a choice "kill or die".
Turf strongly resembles last year's Pigeon English but with a slightly older cast, and instead of a mystical pigeon, a tramp called Leo who dispenses crazy wisdom. It might just be all the pills and weed, but soon Jaylon is talking to people who might not be there, having visions and being lectured by the hologram of Jesus that hangs on his aunt's wall. The "turf" he fights over takes on a spiritual dimension.
Lucas cleverly contrasts the banality of school life with the brutal code of the streets as Jaylon ricochets between them towards a nail-biting finale. An exhilarating, tragic tale and a terrific debut.
Lucas is good at capturing the claustrophobic world that Jay is ensnared in, where his possibilities and aspirations are crushed by byzantine street rules that even dictate what chocolate bar he buys. Jay makes for a lively, intelligent, wryly funny narrator. The fact he can see the hopelessness of his situation makes his tragic trajectory all the more poignant.
Published a year after the London riots, John Lucas's debut takes the estates of Hackney as its contentious turf. A fight to the death between two pit bulls introduces a dog-eat-dog underworld of violence, drugs and gangs. But despite its easily cliched setting, Lucas goes far beyond hoodie stereotypes in this sensitive and unusual teenage novel.
As his 16th birthday approaches, narrator Jay is offered the chance to graduate to the Olders of the Blake Street Boyz. But when initiation means killing a classmate, Jay begins to question the rules. In an effort to reform him, Jay has been sent to live with his ardent Christian aunt; her flat is a "Welcome Break for souls" crammed with lurid iconography, including a hologram of Jesus that taunts Jay with life or death.
As Jay gets swept up in violent spirals, he no longer knows if the crazy mystical figures he meets are real or merely holograms of his fevered imagination. A powerful and unsettling novel, Turf's biggest success is its protagonist, a character as misunderstood, complex and terrifying as the world he must flee.
Turf is not an easy read and it doesn't offer any easy answers. Because there aren't any. But it what does do, is get to the heart of the matter. And that's something worthwhile. Don't you think? Published on the anniversary of the 2011 riots, this is a harrowing but illuminating read
This compelling story sheds light on the lives of a group of disaffected young people, for whom life is cheap and belonging to a gang is everything. It is about loyalty, love, making choices and living with the consequences. An astounding and thought-provoking novel, which contains violence, sex and strong language, it is violent, shocking and heartbreaking.