Reviews /

Northern Soul

Authored by Phil Earle
Published by Barrington Stoke Ltd

Marv is fourteen years old, the only things that matter in his life are football and his best mate. Then, into his class at school, and into the house across the road moves the perfect Carly and his life will never be the same. If only Carly felt the same about him.

Certainly, any fourteen-year-old boy is going to find a lot to relate to in poor Marv’s plight. And a lot to entertain them too. Marv doesn’t feel that his bumbling, croc wearing, music bore dad can be of much assistance to him in his pursuit of love with the lovely Carly. But no matter, for into our story steps the figure of Otis Redding. The heart breaker and soul sensation.

Oddly, no one but Marv can see Otis. And, while he may be a ghost, he’s a very odd one – constantly craving junk food and stinking up the place wherever he goes. And, while the real Otis Redding was a smooth American singer, this one is decidedly rough and decidedly Northern. The esteemed Mr Redding has advice for Marv to help him get the girl of his dreams but, sad to say, it’s not great advice and instead of getting Marv closer to his goal, each attempt gets him further away.

It starts off with dreadful chat up lines, ‘If I could rearrange the alphabet, I’d put U and I together’, moves on to advice to write Carly a love song and sing it to her and culminates in a very ill-fated, ghost assisted, game of spin the bottle. The cringe factor is very, very high and your readers are likely to laugh till they cry, especially when Carly’s lip gets caught on Marv’s braces and they are trapped together – and the video is shared online.

Readers will be able to see that it’s Marv’s fault – not Carly’s – that he’s making a mess of everything, that his idolising of her is based only on his perception of her appearance and that Otis Redding’s advice is absolutely ridiculous. They might see a little deeper and think more intelligently than Marv can about what Carly might actually want out of a boyfriend. They might even manage a little more sympathy for Marv’s dad than Marv can.

Northern Soul is funny, gritty, silly and run through with a sort of approachable wisdom about what it feels like to be a young person growing into manhood with no-one to ask about it. Perhaps there’s an echo of Adrian Mole in some of this – but Adrian never had the ghost of The King of Soul sitting on the edge of his bed and dripping kebab sauce onto the duvet cover.

Phil Earle has done a fantastic job here in creating a book that feels absolutely authentic, that manages language in such a way as to be easy to read without ever, not even for a moment, feeling like it is patronising the reader, and which entertains on every page. Marv doesn’t win Carly’s heart in the end. It would have been wrong if he had. But the final couple of pages give you a sweet coda that will give even the most hangdog reader a flash of hope.

The perfect read for KS3 and KS4 readers and one which might possibly open up useful conversations between them. Another triumph for Phil Earle and, hopefully, another win for Barrington Stoke.