Book review: “Trouble” by Non Pratt

by Non Pratt
Recommended Ages: 14+

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Trouble is the story of Hannah, a funny and easy going fifteen year old, game for a giggle and laissez-faire when it comes to school work. You’ll find her doing her homework on the bus, or hanging out with her best friend at the park. She is a daughter, sister, friend, and she is pregnant. Aaron is the new kid in town, with a past he wants to keep in the past. The last thing he wants to do is rock the boat or gain attention, but he is soon taken under the wing of the basketball guys. Aaron is intrigued by the girl the whole school is talking about. He often finds himself unwittingly drawn to trouble, but why, when he’s trying to keep a low profile, does he offer to be the pretend Dad of Hannah’s unborn baby? Together, they figure out what’s really important in the path to parenthood.

I picked up Trouble as a proof copy from Walker Books and have already seen a lot of buzz in the UK blogger community over the debut novel from author, Non Pratt. The buzz is definitely deserved. Trouble is a refreshingly honest, beautifully written contemporary debut from an emerging voice in the UK YA scene. It’s an important book that deals with teenage sexuality, contraception and pregnancy in a way that doesn’t aim to dictate, and will instead make you laugh out loud and cheer along with Hannah, whatever her decision.

Trouble is completely non-judgmental. It handles first crushes, first love, first sexual experience and the ones that come after without kid gloves, offering insight via experience and trial and error rather than the guiding voice of some omnipotent moral high ground.

In the UK it also has a truly ingenious front cover, daring and graphic; those little sperm get right to the point of the story in an undeniable statement. Teens aren’t censored, and neither is Trouble. I wish the US version had been as unapologetic.

My favorite thing about protagonist Hannah is that she is at once flirtatious and outspoken, but also at heart what defines her is her thoughtfulness.  She says stupid things when she’s feeling threatened or angry, but she doesn’t want to hurt her loved ones;  she tries to understand the viewpoints of those around her and she’s fiercely loyal, even when it ends up stabbing her in the back. Her journey is eye-opening, touching and heartfelt.

A huge triumph of the writing is that it doesn’t patronize: the teenage voices are real without becoming caricatures. At one point Hannah types OMG and it feels both true to the text and actual teens, rather than the usual ‘this is what the kids say’ joke that all too often happens in contemporary humorous YA. Nor does it stray into overblown introspection. Hannah muddles through her dilemma, asks for advice, listens to and ignores those around her, and at the heart of it all she remains stubbornly and gloriously herself.

It’s also really funny. Hannah’s tongue is sharp, and her rebuttals are always on point. As it’s a high school narrative (set in an English comprehensive secondary school) there are of course the usual playground cliques and friendship groups, all set to knock Hannah when she’s down, but she can certainly hold her own and then some.

Likewise Aaron is hilarious. He provides a Jess from Gilmore Girls level of dry observation as he notes the habits of his peers, with the added oh brother effect of having a teacher for a Dad. He is loyal, kind, fierce, inscrutable, a bit of a mysterious outsider with a dark past, but still ultimately a giant friendly dork. His eyebrows are firmly raised at the world. Hannah isn’t swooning over Aaron but she values his presence in her life. They are mutually supportive and their friendship is fantastic.

By the end of the book, your heart will be in your throat and bursting with love for these two.

Hannah and Aaron are surrounded by a varied cast of characters, such as Hannah’s awesome Gran, her absentee step-brother, her best frenemy, the park-dwelling boys she has dated, her Mum and her little sister. There’s a brilliant scene in which Hannah reflects on her Mum’s job at a family planning center which makes her reaction and the family blowout all the more poignant.

Aaron’s overprotective parents are equally unpredictable. As is the relevance of Aaron’s friend, an elderly man at the local pensioners retirement home with a bitter outlook on life. We learn more about Aaron through flashbacks to his life before and his old best friend, in stark contrast to the guys he hangs out with at the new school. These people all ground the world that Pratt’s protagonists inhabit without overpowering them.

What you end up with is a fully realized world full of ups and downs, laughter and tears, fights and friendships. Trouble makes you look at your own misconceptions and prejudices, challenges you to think about slut-shaming and misogyny, and does so with a deft hand. The plot twists as more secrets are spilled, until the big picture makes way for a whole new perspective on life.

Daring, romantic, bold and exciting, Trouble is a wonderful read. With fast paced and easy to read narration, dazzling characters and tongue in cheek humor, I’d highly recommend it, particularly to fans of writers such as Meg Cabot, Louise Rennison, Malorie Blackman, and Rainbow Rowell.

Trouble is published in the UK in March 2014 from Walker Books and from Simon Teen in the US in June 2014. Pre-order today and don’t miss out.

5 lightning bolts
This book was excellent! I highly recommend this book – buy it asap!