Two teenage boys stand on adjacent tower blocks in the gritty, grotty east London suburb of Forest Gate, with nooses around their necks. They jump. Ashvin, a Somalian refugee, dies. His friend James, the youngest member of a notorious family of drug dealers, survives. Ashvin's sister, Meina, visits James in hospital – and as their relationship blooms, so too does the hope that they can escape the brutality and trauma they've each experienced.
This is a hard, painful novel. At 184 pages, it's a short but densely textured read. There are times when the prose is too flatly declarative – "James sighed, thinking about the distance that had grown between him and his brothers." But, mostly, James's gradual, fragile redemption – symbolised by the slow healing of the lesions on his neck – is very well conveyed. Peter Akinti is also good at conveying a sense of place: the urban sprawl of east London comes to life here, as does war-torn Somalia and, unexpectedly, the contrasting tranquility of Cornwall.