Author: Sarra Manning
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication date: 2 June 2016
Series or standalone?: Standalone
Source: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Told over the course of a single night, London Belongs to Us follows seventeen-year-old Sunny in a mad dash across London as she juggles a race for romantic retribution with herding grumpy French boys, wingwomaning for her roller-derbying best friend, and her sudden discovery of what is probably best described as gumption. Think of it as a reverse Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight: not twenty-four hours in a new place with a soulmate, but twelve hours in our heroine’s dodgy, decrepit, dazzling city as she faces a life where first love is rarely last love at all.
When her boyfriend is caught kissing another girl, known wallflower Sunny sees her night fall to pieces around her. At first sure that it was just some kind of mix-up, her race to find answers becomes one of mishaps, detours and chance encounters with unexpected allies. From Crystal Palace (so far away from civilisation you can’t even get the Tube there) to Clapham, Soho to Shoreditch, Mayfair to Muswell Hill, Sunny’s escapades plunge the reader into a London so vivid it spills from the page. Manning whips the city into a vibrant, dizzying, living, breathing place. Whether you love London or you struggle to understand just why anyone would bother, this book is a giddy, sensationally energetic story.
It’s so good at whirl-winding about, in fact, that it foresees your raised eyebrow at the string of maybe, possibly, slightly unrealistic twists, turns and coincidences which allow Sunny to zigzag across London in search of the boyfriend who thinks he can get away with cheating on her and says, I know. Look, have another late-night takeaway, maybe some RuPaul’s Drag Race, take your mind off it. Now that’s better, isn’t it? Oh, look! A dance sequence! It’s joyous, suspend-your-disbelief stuff.
More than anything, London Belongs to Us is unexpectedly, brilliantly, bitingly funny. Its humour is effortless, sharp and clever, an offshoot of the story rather than the point of it. If you’re looking for a book which evokes madcap out-all-night teenage escapades without the Hollywood shimmer, this is the book for you: pacy but down-to-earth and full of good humour. Sunny, a proud resident of the affectionately-termed People’s Republic of Haringey, provides the kind of snark and commentary only teens can master. Sprinkled with lists, pie-charts and chatty introductions to different parts of London, the prose is solid, if slightly too reliant on old-fashioned texts (in 2016 reality, the whole thing would probably go down on Snapchat, but where’s the fun in that) and a little too busy jumping from one chaotic scene to the next.
Manning’s skill lies in making even the most fleeting of touches count, whether it’s on family ties, feminism, pride in multicultural identity, sexual orientation, gender politics or any other part of everyday life for modern teens. Even the book’s hints of a potential romance are left tantalisingly out of reach. Manning saves her power for the punch of a showdown, and it’s a cracking formula. I’d love to see more YA with such distinctly story-focused style and flair.
Sunny’s quest is a decidedly buoyant one, despite the rough-around-the-edges reality of her city. It sees her coming face-to-face with all kinds of characters, from bolshy doorgirls to handsome, grumpy French boys (Vic and Jean Luc Godard, who I’m pretty sure was named after a filmmaker), whose air of mystery is somewhat punctured by their bickering and perhaps, a kind of loneliness far from home. There are even cameos from the cast of Manning’s acerbic Adorkable, including the brutally frank Jeane and the rather more laidback Michael (plus his poetry-inspiring cheekbones). Sunny’s single-minded pursuit of justice sees her on the brink of losing friends who would rather be crashing on the sofa at 3am on a Saturday night, but there are moments of strong friendship and great loyalty (except from OMG Martha, who’s probably just still in it for the drama).
Fierce, fast-paced and fantastically fun, London Belongs to Us is ideal for fans of Holly Bourne and Karen McCombie. It’s a delightfully dramatic, astonishingly incisive and incredibly satisfying caper, as full of sarcasm as it is of emotionally powerful showdowns. Highly recommended.