I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.
Grow by Luke Palmer, cover art by unknown, published by Firefly Press
There are a growing number of books exploring race and racism and/or extremism. For the most part, these are set in fairly multi-cultural areas and tell the stories at those suffering from prejudice, from racist behaviour and attitudes. And rightly so – they are important stories which need to be heard.
However, I was intrigued by this one coming at the issue from a slightly different angle. Set in a predominantly white British area, Grow is Josh’s story. Struggling to cope after his dad’s death in a terrorist attack, he finds himself targeted by white supremacists and is slowly sucked into a terrifying world of bullying, intimidation and fear.
The characters were really well drawn and I thought the way we are able to gradually learn more about their backgrounds and individual stories was so skilfully done, and so much of this opened up a plethora of other discussions and themes too.
At no point do you feel for the white supremacists targeting Josh, but the book does allow us to consider what has brought them to this point.
Likewise, Dana’s story is so hard to read, but so important and so sensitively told – both implicit and hard-hitting at the same time. The way it ties into the main plot works well too.
This was a really compelling but difficult read; there were so many points at which I was desperate for Josh to realise what’s going on/do something about it but it’s all too clear he won’t/can’t because of how angry or scared or stuck or ashamed he feels.
Indeed, Josh’s emotions were brilliantly depicted and never has the phrase emotional roller-coaster felt so apt.
On the surface Josh is coping well with his dad’s death, but underneath the grief is still raw and he’s unable to process it. Easily turned to anger and blame, we see him spiral through negative emotions which are fuel to the white supremacists’ grooming fire.
His growing realisation that what he’s involved with is wrong is perhaps the hardest to read – the sense of having nowhere to turn, of desperately wanting it to stop but feeling powerless and/or too scared to try to stop it.
And with good reason – there is real menace from the gang he finds himself caught up with, and the way they find a way into Josh’s life is insidious – it’s clear to see just how easy it is for this sort of thing to happen.
This is a bit pf a slow burner, but it’s characters are deep and the plot believable because of it. There’s a great twist at the end too. While I did see it coming, it took me a long time and I thought it was clever and brings an added level of tension to the closing chapters.
I also really liked the way nature and growth were used, through Dana and Josh’s Grandad’s gardening, both symbolically to reflect Josh’s journey, but also for the wider message of the benefits nature and the outdoors can have.
Overall, this is a moving book that will make you think. With themes of grief, loss, mental health, racism and pressure as well as thought-provoking social commentary, it’s one that should have a place in every secondary school library.