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The hardest word

Her foster mother, Annie, favours yoga as a de-stressing activity, but for Charlene it’s knitting, the rhythmic clickety click of the needles calming her troubled mind. An angry soul, she’s been knitting an awful lot lately, in a bid to deal with the death of her mother and life in the care system. When Annie’s antagonistic son destroys a very special blanket she’s making, Charlene’s rage leads to her stabbing his hand with her knitting needle. In Needle by Patrice Lawrence, we accompany an unrepentant Charlene on her journey to a police cell, and learn why sorry really is the hardest word.

After the death of her mum two years ago, Charlene was separated from her little half-sister, Kandi. Unwanted by Kandi’s dad, Charlene has since bounced between foster families and schools, resigned to always being the new girl in the bottom set.

She relates her backstory in a matter of fact way, the security guards who follow her around stores, the teachers who expect little, and the school friendships that are hard to forge when you arrive in the middle of Year 9.

‘But the world doesn’t always unroll all smooth. When you’re a Black girl in care, there’s bumps and twists.’

The bumps and twists continue when Annie’s son ruins the blanket she’s been knitting as an intended reunion gift for Kandi, and Charlene’s assault on him lands her at the police station. She remains grimly unrepentant. The girl who never receives an apology is not about to extend her own.

How Lawrence resolves the story makes for a thought-provoking exploration of how Black teenage girls are often seen as adults and offers a sobering peek at youth-related officialdom. Charlene is seen as self-destructive and yet the destruction clearly originates from other quarters.

An impactful short read from one of our best YA authors, ideal for reluctant readers and dyslexia-friendly.

If you like this, see our review of Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence.

Needle by Patrice Lawrence is published by Barrington Stoke, 128 pages.

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