Pages: 272 pages, paperback
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads): Meet Laurence, fifteen years old and six feet tall. Very soon, he'll dress up as his mum and inpersonate a dead man on the radio.
Meet Jay, his six year old brother. He looks like an angel but thinks he's a dog. He'll sink his teeth into anyone who gets in the way.
Today is Tuesday - and the next fifteen days will change the boys' lives forever...
My review: I remember feeling this way about a debut novel almost exactly this time last year; really, genuinely excited about the discovery of a huge new talent in the YA world. When I felt this way last year it was about Phil Earle's Being Billy and this around, it's Dave Cousins' 15 Days Without a Head, which is absolute magic.
I devoured this novel over a couple of days, grabbing a few minutes here and there to read whenever I got a chance; on the way home from the event in London where I was given my copy, when I arrived a work a few minutes early. Any time I had a little bit of spare time I buried my nose in Laurence and Jay's story, which I was utterly engrossed by.
The characters are what makes this such an exceptional book because they are just so real. Cousins uses so many tiny details to bring the boys to life and they're definitely two of my favourite characters of this year. I was absolutely rooting for them from the outset, which make the book so much more enjoyable than if I'd only had lukewarm feelings for them. Caring about the characters raises the stakes and makes the outcome of the novel so much more important and I was really hoping things worked out as well as possible for Jay and Laurence.
The time span of the book (taking away the epilogue) is relatively short but we see Laurence go on such a journey, turning from a relatively average fifteen year old into a responsible, mature young man who has definitely had far too much to deal with in his life. The way he looks after and protects Jay was so touching and I loved the moments that those two shared. Speaking of Jay...Thinking he's a dog? Loved it. I actually did the exact same thing when I was younger. Yes, I genuinely used to try and persuade my mum to feed me out of a dog bowl. That actually feels a lot more sinister now I've seen Audition.
But I digress.
Cousins is a truly powerful writer, managing to have me laughing out loud during one scene and crying during the next - I loved how the atmosphere in the story changed so quickly from happy to tragic, exactly how it does in real life. I think that's the main strength of this book, that it is so incredibly real. It stays realistic from beginning to end and I'm really pleased that the ending is realistic, rather than the Hollywood ending I know some writers would have gone for.
I really don't have anything negative to say about 15 Days Without a Head. I'm so excited to watch Dave Cousins' career pan out from now, as he's just what the MG/YA market needs right now; a fresh, exciting new voice who isn't afraid to tell it like it is. Also - bonus points for the brilliant reading he gave at the Oxford University Press event!
First line: 'The front door slams.'
Read if you liked…: Being Billy - Phil Earle
Total: 18/20 (A)
Note: This review was originally posted as an early review here at Writing from the Tub on the 24/10/11