Trouble: Two Tales from Devana High
London, Tamarind, 2013, 328p
Although he is a rather popular author in my library, I have not previously read any Bali Rai novels. A lot of my energy is taken up in promoting books that are not read very often, and I do not have a problem with Rai's fiction, as it is constantly on loan.
The Devana High books are a new series about six teenage friends. This novel focuses on Grace and Dean, offering the reader two separate stories about the same characters within the space of one book. Grace is a quick-witted girl who is fed up with always having to take late lunch and eat the leftover food. So when she and Dean find about about the lunch time clubs, which will allow her and her friends to leave lesson early for lunch, she jumps at the opportunity to get some decent food. In Dean's story, keen to get his hands on some extra cash, Dean agrees to help his brother sell some phones and games around school.
Despite appearances, Dean and Grace are not naught kids - just a little misguided and cheeky- and inevitably, they end up in trouble (hence the book's title). But they are the kind of characters young readers can relate to, being flawed and human instead of delightful angels. They chat back to teachers, turn up late to school and wind each other up, but they are essentially good students. And when the find themselves in trouble, they aspire to do the right thing and make things okay again. Beneath all the bravado and excitement is a story with a moral message.
As an adult reader, I struggled a bit with some of the slang in this book. I'm sure a younger reader would make sense of it all, but I occasionally tripped over the words. And Dean lives with his grandfather, who speaks in such a broad Jamaican accent that even the family cannot always understand him.
Trouble is a fairly easy read, with the drama flowing succinctly and the characters maintaining the reader's interest. Each of the six characters have their own story, and I find myself wanting to read about the other individuals, too. Bali Rai has achieved a great thing by putting the stories of a male character and a female character in the same book, meaning this cannot be labelled as either "for boys" or "for girls". And his ability to characterise and infiltrate the minds of these two separate characters is brilliant, bringing to life two distinctly different individuals within the same pages. Whilst some writers cannot even create one convincing protagonist, Bali Rai has produced six!