The Raven Wheel, by AF Stone, is a hard hitting tale of contemporary teenagers whose lives have gone awry due to the actions of their parents. Set in what the protagonists regard as a backwater, near to Stoke-on Trent, they must deal with the fallout from: drug use, mental health issues, and sexual abuse. The author is direct and unflinching in her portrayal of the cost to families when their loved ones sink through the cracks of society’s accepted behaviours. If help is offered and rejected there is little appetite, or resources, for looking beyond what appears obvious – to treat the cause rather than the effect.
Chapters tell the story from alternate character’s points of view. The book opens by introducing Ria, a fifteen year old who self harms. She wishes to reinvent herself and tries to do so when she meets Tye, a couple of years older and living with his nan and younger brother, Kian, after their dad attempted suicide. Kian misses his mum and struggles to comprehend the damage she could do feeding her addiction, and the damage already done.
These three young people are far from innocents. They experience: run-ins with the police, expulsion from school, under age drinking, theft and joyriding. Their families want better for them despite it being the adult’s actions that precipitated the issues being faced. The cycle of problematic behaviour across generations is difficult to break.
The setting moves to a secure unit where mental health patients are treated or, at least, contained. Those still on the outside try to find ways to move on with their lives as best they can. Each of the characters is desperate for freedom to choose their life trajectory, whatever that may mean. It is not just those locked up who feel imprisoned by circumstances they cannot find a way to change.
Plot development is shocking in places but the author has done a fantastic job in keeping it nuanced as well as real. The fast paced action and unmasking of respectable facades will leave the reader breathless as well as appalled. I’m not sure when I last read a book that is so bleak yet also a solid page turner. The circumstances described mirror those we know exist yet too often turn away from.
A wake up call for more empathy and compassion, even towards those who, at face value, bring down trouble on themselves. No easy answers are offered and there is no shying from the devastating impact of certain actions.
The author has created a compelling story with unforgettable impact. Dark and brutal as it may be, this is a recommended read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, The Book Guild.