Friday 5 May 2017

Book review : Little Gold - Allie Rogers

The first thing that appealed to me when I read the synopsis of Allie Roger's debut novel Little Gold is that it is set in Brighton in the summer of 1982. As I was growing up at the same time just along the coast in Hastings, I could really relate to the backdrop of the tourist-packed seaside town, smelling the tang of vinegar on the seafront breeze and hearing the seagulls cry while picking your way across the shingle for a dip in the freezing sea. There are plenty of little throwbacks to the time period too - Woolworth's Pick 'n' Mix, CND badges, the Falklands conflict and kids running around until it got dark with their parents having little or no idea of where they were all had me smiling nostalgically.

Luckily, the parallels between my Sussex childhood and that in the novel end there. Little Gold, as she prefers to be called, is a tomboyish child on the cusp of her teenage years whose whole life implodes when her father ups and leaves and her mum turns to drink, leaving her, her brother Malcolm and big sister Ali to fend for themselves. While Ali does her best to look after her family, she is about to head off to university, leaving Little Gold (or LG) and Malcy even more vulnerable. With his asthma, eczema and shabby clothes, Malcolm is an easy target for the local bullies so he is pleased to have a friend with parents who welcome him into their home, for movie nights and family parties. LG has also found an ally - Peggy Baxter, an elderly neighbour who takes a shine to her and builds a  unlikely friendship with her.

Both of the friendships offer a breath of fresh air to the neglected children, not to mention putting food in their otherwise empty bellies, but as the relationships strengthen, deep dark secrets and hidden agendas come to the fore, some of which are merely poignant while others are sinister and sickening.

As a parent, I tend to feel that child porn and online grooming are a modern-day threat that didn't exist in my carefree, innocent childhood days, but it most certainly did go on behind closed doors, quite probably in the ways that Allie Rogers describes. I distinctly remember having it drummed into me not to take sweets from strangers, go with anyone offering to show me puppies or a lift home and to stay away from "dirty old men" hanging around public toilets, but I never really understood the implications. I remember when AIDS was discovered and euphemism-filled leaflets featuring tombstones landed on everyone's doormats, with gay men (and it was always men, as far I remember, not women) becoming scapegoats, seen as the root of all evils, just like the Jews in Nazi Germany before them. I love the way Allie Rogers gives a nod to the prejudices and ignorance that were rife at the time, with distrust of what went on in the park toilets, while presenting a totally different picture of the benevolent, kind-hearted members of the LGBT community that Peggy knows.

I don't know if the 1980's are far enough back in the collective memory for Little Gold to be classed as a work of historical fiction, but it was certainly a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me. It's a poignant but ultimately uplifting tale of surviving whatever the world can throw at you. I could empathise with all of the characters, despite their flaws (except for the ones that you were supposed to despise, and that worked very well too), but my favourites were LG and Peggy - two very different female characters who both share the same kindness and inner strength, despite their apparent vulnerability. This is one of those books that will stay with you long after you've turned the final page.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £9.99

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (2 May 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1787199959
  • ISBN-13: 978-1787199958
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 2.9 x 14.4 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

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