The shortlist for this year’s YA Book Prize is brilliantly eclectic, but White Rabbit Red Wolf by Tom Pollock lured me with a cover blurb promising maths, murder, and the human psyche. This startling combination will mesmerise you in the unfolding story of young maths prodigy, Peter Blankman. Prone to extreme anxiety, a public awards ceremony triggers a severe panic attack and an inexplicable sequence of events, including the stabbing of Peter’s mother and the disappearance of his beloved sister, Bel. Sharpen your brain. You’ll need it in this complex encounter with the darkest workings of the mind.
For Peter, maths governs everything, ‘…light, gravity, rivers, moons, minds, money…’ If only he could somehow mathematically map himself, and change the pesky equations that led to his crippling fear of life. The fateful award ceremony is to honour his mother, eminent research scientist, Dr Louise Blankman, and once there, almost inevitably poor Peter succumbs to the dizzying vortex of a panic attack. He flees the hall, pursued by his alarmed family. And then suddenly there is blood. So much blood, and his mother on the floor, her pulse a mere flicker, ‘like a butterfly pinned under her skin.’
Bel is nowhere to be found, and Peter’s story is about to enter the realms of the darkly fantastic, as he’s drawn into a world of espionage and treachery at the highest level. Discovering that nothing in his life is what he thought it to be,it seems that the very foundations of Peter’s memories are built on shifting sands.
The tag line of this novel is ‘This story is a lie,’ and Tom Pollock plays brilliantly with concepts of truth and memory. Peter himself is the classic unreliable narrator. Allegiances shift and revelations pile up in a genuinely jaw-dropping fashion.
A terrific book. Clever, original, and demanding of its reader. Pay attention! Every detail is significant.
The YA Book Prize 2019 winner will be announced on the 30th of May.
White Rabbit Red Wolf by Tom Pollock is published by Walker Books, 400 pages.