Reviews /

Wild East

Authored by Ashley Hickson-Lovence
Published by Penguin Random House Children's UK

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Wild East is an uplifting YA verse novel which charts a Black British teenage boy’s growth and development as a poet as he moves from inner-city London to Norwich.

After Ronny witnesses the fatal stabbing of his best friend Maz, his mother decides that they need to move out of London. His new school takes some getting used to, and he finds it strange being one of the only students of colour, but he is also nurtured there, particularly by his English teacher who encourages him to take part in weekly workshops with a visiting poet and ultimately to attend an Arvon creative writing retreat in Shropshire, where he is further able to develop his voice.

One of the things I found particularly refreshing about Wild East compared to a lot of YA writing was its positivity – about life, about schools and about writing. Ashley Hickson-Lovence engages with a lot of difficult topics, including knife crime, county lines, gender identity, the financial challenges faced by single parents and the experiences of refugees (some of these in more detail than others). But Ronny is still a character who enjoys life and, perhaps owing to his own background as secondary English teacher, Hickson-Lovence presents Ronny’s school as a caring and affirming community.

In his author’s note, Hickson-Lovence says that Wild East is for those who ‘might not consider themselves readers usually but are still, in some way, in some form, a lover of words’. This book is really a love letter to words and writing, designed to help young people find their own voices as they watch Ronny embrace his. The Arvon retreat, which occupies the book’s central chapter, is shown to be a life-changing experience for Ronny and his fellow participants, and Hickson-Lovence includes lots of the writing stimuli and exercises, some of which readers might want to try for themselves. The book also name-checks many real-life writers who inspire Ronny, including Manjeet Mann, Dean Atta and Raymond Antrobus, and a reading list and playlist at the end offer further inspiration for those who have enjoyed following Ronny’s journey.

The book is probably most suitable for readers in Year 8 or 9 upwards as it includes some swearing and more adult themes. As with other verse novels, its form adds to its accessibility and immediacy, and it would be a great book to share with keen and reluctant readers alike.