19 May 2009

Book of the Week (14): "The Ant Colony" by Jenny Valentine

When you observe ants, they always seem to be busy, going somewhere, looking for something. They are small, yet when they pull together they can achieve unbelievable things like carrying food that is more than twice their weight. Not many people bother observing ants, but Max is obsessed with them. That’s only one of the things that Sam remembers about Max during the long nights after Sam runs away from his small village and moves into 33 Georgiana Street in London's Camden Town.

As the blurb on the cover of Jenny Valentine’s new novel points out, the other tenants in Sam’s building are similar to ants, each scurrying off with their own business to take care of, apart from old Isabel that is, who makes everybody else’s business her own. Seventeen-year-old Sam soon finds that hiding from his terrible past is not as easy as he thought, especially after he is recruited to entertain and befriend Bohemia, a ten year old neglected by her unreliable single mother. It seems unlikely that lizard-face Steve, grungy Mick, old Isabel, self obsessed Cherry and Sam and Bohemia will ever stray from their own paths and unite for a common goal, but the book isn’t called The Ant Colony for nothing.

The characters in the novel are very lonely people, many with secrets to hide, yet they manage to reach out and create relationships beyond their own, often shocking, circumstances. Sam and Bo’s stories are intertwined with the other tenants’ to create a clever and well-paced plot as secrets are unravelled one by one. As with her previous novels, Finding Violet Park and Broken Soup, Jenny Valentine sends out a life-affirming message about hope and how eventually, like ants, we all depend on one another.

Recommended by Noga Applebaum

• There are a lot of books about people running away from something or someone – that 'someone' quite often being themselves. One fast-paced option is Julia Donaldson’s Running on the Cracks, a thriller with a cast of unforgettable characters and a deep, dark secret.
• In Kate Thompson’s Creature of the Night Bobby’s mum is running away, taking her family with her, but is the country any safer than the city?
Girl, Missing by Sophie McKenzie is about a girl running away from her foster parents – people who might have actually kidnapped her as a baby – in order to find out about her true self and the secrets of her past.


Jenny Woolf said...

Girl sounds fascinating. It's passed me by - must find it and read it.

Daniel said...

Do, Jenny - it's wonderful!