A Review of 15 Days Without A Head by Dave Cousins
by REBECCA, April 24, 2013
Laurence Roach: a very responsible 15-year-old; he takes care of his little brother and takes his mom’s shifts at work when she’s too hung over to go
Jay Roach: Laurence’s little brother; he’s obsessed with Scooby Doo and likes to pretend he’s a dog
Mum: drinks to forget her troubles and then drinks some more, she is overwhelmed and unsatisfied, though she loves her sons
Mina: the white knight who sweeps in and lends a much-needed hand in all things
When your mom goes out to work one day and doesn’t come back, what do you do? You make sure no one finds out and puts you and your little bro in foster care. And you try to win an all-expenses-paid trip on a radio quiz show, of course.
So, it’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that I’m a real sucker for the “parents have abandoned us so now we have to figure out how to keep it together” plot, and 15 Days Without A Head, the debut novel by Dave Cousins (published in 2012 in the U.K.), is no exception. Laurence and Jay Roach’s mother is an alcoholic who is totally dissatisfied with her crap jobs cleaning offices and working at a chip shop (it’s set in England), and one day when she leaves for work she simply doesn’t come back. Fifteen-year-old Laurence has to take care of Jay, find a way to pay for food, and go to school himself, which is no easy feat. So, when Jay tells him that roaches (with whom they share their name as well as their apartment) can live with their heads cut off, Laurence really identifies with them. He knows he has to find their mother or he and Jay will end up in foster care. And then, at a fair one day, he’s sure he senses her nearby, and thus begins his quest to find her and convince her to come home.
15 Days Without A Head does everything right. Cousins manages to take subject matter that could have been maudlin and instead get the tone perfect. Laurence is freaked out, annoyed, and desperate by turns, but everything is presented with a matter-of-factness that never veers into the sentimental, a sense of humor that lightens the whole novel, and a view of the world that’s very fifteen-year-old.
“I wondered what the kids at school would think when I just vanished, then realized that half of them probably wouldn’t even notice. To think that you could leave somewhere, and nobody would even realize you’d gone, because they never noticed you were there in the first place. That’s hard.”
He is convinced that if he can win a holiday from a radio quiz show that it will solve all their problems, but since you need to be eighteen to enter, he pretends to be his dead father and imitates the Scottish accent of one of his teachers:
“I heave open the door of the phone box and take a gulp of air. I’m soaked in sweat, but I can’t help grinning. I did it. Three down, only seven more to go. If I can stay in for ten days I’ll win the holiday. If there’s anything that is going to cheer Mum up enough to stop her drinking, it’s a two week, all-expenses-paid holiday in the sun.”
Laurence has to keep Jay calm, telling him that their mother will be back soon, and as her absence continues, Laurence starts getting desperate. He obviously loves Jay a lot, but Jay is getting harder to handle, and then he gets sick. Laurence obviously needs help, and Mina is just the girl to provide it. She and Laurence meet in school and later at the fair and she is a damn good friend, even if she is a new one. She’s the only one Laurence can confide in, and she offers really practical solutions, eventually playing the Velma to the brothers’ Shaggy and Scooby in the mission to get their mother back. (She also convinces Laurence that he doesn’t make a very convincing woman when he dresses up in his mother’s clothes and wig to try and take out money at the bank—now that’s a real friend!)
This is a really solid read: well-plotted, well-written, good voice, and just the right number of twists and turns (do you think Laurence wins the all-expense-paid trip? read the book and find out . . .). The gritty reality of a 15- and 6-year-old living for weeks in a roach-infested apartment, hungry, dirty, and ill is balanced by the warmth of their relationship and the hijinks that the search for their mother provides. Plus, I love a good siblings-sticking-together book!
Forbidden, by Tabitha Suzuma (2010). Brother and sister Lochan and Maya are the eldest of five siblings with a mother who drinks a lot and is rarely around. They have to work hard to keep the family together, dodging concerned adults and finding food, all while staying on top of their studies—oh, and falling in love with each other. Wonderful book about a tough subject—check out my complete review HERE.
Stick, by Andrew Smith (2011). Here is a different kind of book about brothers. When Stick’s abusive father finds out that his older brother, Bosten is gay, Bosten has to leave home for his safety. Stick sets off on a grueling road trip to find Bosten. My full review of the really wonderful Stick is HERE.
procured from: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 15 Days Without A Head by Dave Cousins will be available on May 8th.