Before The Fire
Written by Sarah Butler
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Published March 1st 2015
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia
It's June 2011. Stick and Mac are a couple of months shy of eighteen, summer's approaching and they're about to leave their north Manchester estate for the beaches of southern Spain. But the night before they're planning leave, Mac ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, the victim of a random knife attack, and suddenly Stick's going nowhere. His mum doesn't want him to leave the house; his dad's desperate to be his best friend, and his nan's boyfriend keeps telling him Mac's doing just fine in the spirit world. Then he meets J and she might just be everything he needs. Except she's a firebrand with a grudge against the police, and the August riots are just around the corner...
Stick and best friend Mac are embarking on the journey of a lifetime, traveling to Spain for the sun, fun and girls. Mainly the girls. The night before they are set to leave, Stick finds himself in the toilets with his latest conquest, while Mac leaves alone, never making it home. Somewhere between the party and the unit he lives in with his single mother, Mac is brutally stabbed.
Stick is angry. Mac has left him to rot in his going nowhere life, with his borderline insane mother and a father who walked out after losing a child. All he wants to do is to find Mac's killer and inflict his own justice. He's drinking his life away with no regard to those around him, who are torn between support, and allowing him space to grieve. Spiraling downwards to little more than crude, rude substance abuser.
Then Stick meets J. J is a mystery that Stick wants to unravel. Chance meetings his only opportunity to see the girl with hair as loud as she is. But J is fighting her own demons, and isn't the positive influence that Stick needs in his life. She represents everything he wants and enables his drinking, drug abuse and delinquency. As the court date looms closer for Mac's killer, London is set a blaze in a span of violent riots. This is the turning point in Stick's life, will he choose to live or just become another statistic that may end up with the same fate as Mac.
Then he replaces one delinquent with another, his love interest only enables him further. I'm being judgmental, but it's clear both Stick and J are just a pair of felons in the making and he's the poster boy for juvenile detention. J replaces his best friend Mac, promising to help Stick through his grief but she was nothing more than a romantic sidekick that we never really know more than at face value.
The most striking aspect of Before The Fire is it's honesty and rawness. Stick isn't a pleasant character, he isn't even likable, but his story is told with brutal honestly and will strike a chord with readers wanting to delve into the dark world of grief and self loathing through substances. The most prevalent issue I had with his character, is his treatment of females as little more than sexual objects. Both he and Mac were only looking to get off, to put it bluntly. As much as I enjoy realistic fiction, his character grated on my nerves. He was far too confrontational and being older than the intended audience, I wanted to kick this dickhead into next week.
Although Before The Fire wasn't for me, in the right hands a reader will enjoy it's ability to cut through the bullshit and appreciate the depiction of a rough and desperate life of being lost. It does contain sexual situations, deplorable profanity and a realism that could have been mistaken to have been derived from a teenage boy himself, struggling with life.