The way we roll by Scot Gardner
Allen and Unwin, 2016. ISBN 9781760290399
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Drugs, Friendship, Family, Shopping centres. Will has run away and now lives beneath a bowling alley, surviving on the money he earns collecting trolleys at the local shopping centre. Here he meets a variety of other young men, all rough and tough 'Westies', taken aback at the well mannered, privately educated person in their midst. One trolley boy, Julian is intrigued and looks more closely, eventually taking him back home where his mother and girlfriend welcome him. Julian is an amazing character, solicitous, undemanding and accepting of his new friend, but equally incredulous that Will wears a Rolex watch and collects trolleys.
Will is unused to such acceptance and initially on edge, but gradually reveals the reason he has left home. His father, a charismatic TV sports guru has been sleeping with his girlfriend, Claire, and Will has taken footage of their relationship on her mobile phone. Distraught at their betrayal, Will has left, taking the mobile phone with him, but his father and girlfriend want it back.
Gardner always writes an intelligent, soul searching story, layered with incidents and characters at once familiar and yet just out of reach. In this case, he presents a group of young men seen by us all, but ignored and often dismissed by the shopping centre users. Gardner gives them a voice, confronting us with their stories, taking us into their world. Gradually we see Will opening up to his new family, his impeccable manners a source of constant amusement. But Julian wants a different life to being a 'Westie', and asks the homeless Will for advice. He is taken aback, with his posh accent, finely tuned manners and private school background he promises to help. But it is Julian who helps Will more, as we see his common sense often come to the fore when Will reveals his predicament. When Will's father appears at their door, Julian encourages Will to 'grow some balls' and resolve the situation but this happens only after a series of very funny events involving Julian's father, Sandy and the people sent by Will's father to get the phone, along with a goat and much chasing around the suburbs.
Meanwhile, the boys' boss at the shopping centre Joanne has to move away and so offers her job to one of the boys, with Julian as his offsider, but she tells both Will and Julian that they should do something else, not just trolley collecting. She encourages them both to see an alternate path.
I loved this story as I do all that Gardner writes. His characters are always sharply observed, the setting most credible and real, the situations tangible. While not patronising those he writes about he presents them with a dignity and humanity that is breath taking. The themes of family and friendship run deeply through this most fascinating story of two young men from diverse backgrounds finding common ground.