20 April 2011

Book of the Week (96): "Clash" by Colin Mulhern

On the cover of Clash there is an enthusiastic endorsement from Anthony McGowan, author of The Knife that Killed Me, one of my favourite gritty teen novels from recent years. McGowan hails Mulhern as “the next name” in the genre. I agree. Clash is a well written, gripping, tough story of two very different boys, told from alternating perspectives. Alex comes from a violent background – his father is abusive, his uncle is something of a gangster, running cage-fighting nights. He is drawn to this dark world, and turns out to be quite a talented fighter. At school, however, he acquires a reputation of a loner and a psycho who can erupt with little warning leaving a trail of battered victims. Kyle on the other hand has a talent for drawing, and a more sensitive disposition. Their different personalities are bound to clash, yet there is obviously a mutual emotional connection. Alex is a surprisingly avid admirer of Kyle’s art, and Kyle is terrified of Alex, yet is fascinated by him, just like he is with his own pet scorpion, Harold. Their story intertwines in more than one way, and beyond the boys’ initial realisation. This allows Mulhern to build up the tension and supply the final twist. I certainly found the book hard to put down once the snowball of events started rolling. The two teen narrators are well realised, though I felt Alex’s voice was stronger. I did, however, have my doubts about the sincerity of his transformation following a catastrophe and some unexpected revelations that naturally I will not spoil by disclosing here. Gladly, the final paragraph implies that Mulhern does not forget the volatile nature of this character either. An absorbing read, and a new voice to watch out for.

Recommended by Noga Applebaum

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