I was sent a copy of Just A Small Town by the author. This review forms my honest opinion.
A small town that could be anywhere: industry in decline, streets in decay, many have left, while those left behind take short-term joy in drugs.
Four young people are among the left behind.
Alex consumes heroin to escape his abusive father. Jim hides from guilt after the death of the friend he didn’t save. Chelsi’s brother killed a local boy, and ostracism pushes her towards a rival gang, prostitution and loneliness. Danny is a hustler but needs protection from the drug gang that supplies him.
Can any of them survive the addiction, gang life, isolation and manipulation?
Their small town could be anywhere.
A complete departure from anything I read during 2020, Just a Small Town was a total surprise for me. It tells the story of life for a group of people in a town and I’ll be honest, it’s pretty bleak – but it’s also eye opening. Most of the characters are young, and that they were by circumstance, placed so that they felt they had no options available to them was heart breaking reading.
I raced through this, the writing is wonderfully engaging and the characters and their lives makes for interesting and compelling reading. For such a short book there is a huge cast of characters, their stories connecting and intersecting, and it really took some effort trying to keep straight who was who, especially when the chapter headings (which uses the name of the character POV) changed the characters name, from given name to nicknames etc, as their circumstances in life progressed. It did feel to be needlessly confusing at times and there were several occasions where I was completely jarred from the story as I tried to figure out whose point of view I was inhabiting.
Despite this, it’s a fantastic book. There’s little in the way of joy, in fact it’s pretty depressing at times, but it feels real. The description of the lives these characters lead, of their experiences and the options available to them feels so honest and authentic to the point where at times I was forced to put the book down and reassess my own thoughts, and probably – if I’m honest – prejudices. It’s certainly made me reconsider how I see things.
It’s a fast paced read, one that seems to lose track of time as it goes on, but this only seems to heighten the sense of inevitability and crushing claustrophobia that surrounds the lives of the characters. Just A Small Town is an immersive read, and despite the hard hitting material, it is a book that I found incredibly easy to pick up and fall into. The ending I felt was perfectly pitched. It’s no fairy tale, and the ending is in keeping with that – but yet it still offers a glimmer of hope.