Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Locks: A Story Based on True Events by Ashleigh Nugent

Locks: A Story Based on True Events by Ashleigh Nugent

Published by RiseUp on the 21st September 2020.

How I got this book: Received a review copy via Rachel's Random Resources

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon UK / Amazon.com

News From Nowhere

“1993 was the year that Stephen Lawrence got murdered by racists, and I became an angry Black lad with a ‘chip on his shoulder’.”

Aeon is a mixed-race teenager from an English suburb. He is desperate to understand the Black identity foisted on him by racist police, teachers, and ‘friends’. For want of Black role models, Aeon has immersed himself in gangsta rap, he’s trying to grow dreadlocks, and he’s bought himself some big red boots.

And now he’s in Jamaica. 

Within days of being in Jamaica, Aeon has been mugged and stabbed, arrested and banged up. 

Aeon has to fight for survival, fight for respect, and fight for his big red boots. And he has to fight for his identity because, here, Aeon is the White boy. 

I was drawn to read Locks by its wonderfully detailed cover art, before I knew anything about the novel itself, and the irony of this is not lost on me. Locks explores how much a person's self-identity can be determined by other people's views, and how those views are more often the result of shallow preconceptions rather than actual knowledge. Ashleigh Nugent used his own traumatic teenage visit to Jamaica as the basis for this novel and that authenticity shines through every page. There's a wonderful contrast between Nugent's thoughtful, almost poetic prose, and Aeon's frequently crass teenage mindset. The boy who flies to Jamaica at the beginning of this book is a very different person to the young man at its end so Locks can be read as a coming of age story as well as a fictionalised memoir.

I appreciated the social commentary on everyday Jamaican life and the understanding we get of why non-touristy Jamaica was so deprived. Historical similarities mean I could feel Locks reinforcing what I had witnessed in How The One Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones and, although the two books are very different, I felt their stories as equally powerful commentaries on post-colonial neglect.

However, for all its serious themes and frequently grim locations, Locks is a surprisingly engaging and entertaining read. Aeon's behaviour and naivete did raise several chuckles and I loved how Nugent drew me so deeply into his story. In hindsight, I wish I had read this novel slower so it would have lasted me longer.

Meet the author   

Ashleigh Nugent has been published in academic journals, poetry anthologies, and magazines. His latest work, LOCKS, is based on a true story: the time he spent his 17th birthday in a Jamaican detention centre. LOCKS won the 2013 Commonword Memoir Competition and has had excerpts published by Writing on the Wall and in bido lito magazine. Ashleigh’s one-man-show, based on LOCKS, has won support from SLATE / Eclipse Theatre, and won a bursary from Live Theatre, Newcastle. The show has received rave audience reviews following showings in theatres and prisons throughout the UK. Ashleigh is also a director at RiseUp CiC, where he uses his own life experience, writing, and performance to support prisoners and inspire change. 

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Books by Ashleigh Nugent / Historical fiction / Books from England

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