Luke Palmer

I’ve just finished Grow and I cannot stop thinking about it; unflinchingly honest and unapolegetically harrowing I can honestly say this is a book that will stay with me for a long time.

Aimed at the Young Adult audience, Grow is a compelling and difficult read, with themes of grief, loss, racism, exploitation and pressure. Josh’s story shows just how frighteningly easily it is for a vulnerable teenager to drop off the radar of everyday society without family, friends and teachers realising before it’s too late.

Every year nursery, primary and secondary school staff have training on Prevent duty; how it aims to safeguard vulnerable people from being radicalised to supporting terrorism or becoming terrorists themselves. This book epitomises why we should always have the attitude ‘it could happen here’ where safeguarding our young people is concerned.

Author Luke Palmer is a secondary teacher and clearly knows the ways of teenagers! The adolescent boys in the story felt like somebody’s son, brother or cousin you might bump into in the street, at the bus stop or at the local footie pitch which made this feel even closer to home.

Football loving teenager Josh’s world is torn apart when his father is killed in a terrorist bombing on a London commuter train. Struggling to cope with grief, Josh withdraws from friends and family and falls into the fold of white supremacist group, The White Lions.

Josh quickly gets drawn into spending hours on his laptop, watching video clips the group email to him and finds his view of the world shifting. His new ‘family’ give him a renewed confidence and purpose in life. The group’s leader, former soldier Carl develops a sickening hold over Josh and what follows is a chain of frightening and often violent encounters. But Carl isn’t the mastermind of the operation, so when pressure comes from the man at the top and an operation to plan a horrific attack is underway, Josh must try to find a way out…

This was a white-knuckle read! I was on a complete rollercoaster of emotions. I was crippled by Josh and his mum’s overwhelming grief, I felt helpless – desperately willing Josh to tell someone or walk away and at times I felt sheer disgust and extremely uncomfortable at what was unfolding.

There were a number of scenes where my heart was literally in my mouth, my adrenaline pumping with pure terror. There’s such a sense of danger in the book and a twist that will shock you to the core.

Although harrowing, there are so many green shoots of hope that spring up throughout the story and Palmer cleverly and delicately portrays this with references to horticulture; a forgotten garden space, unlikely new friendships blossoming, dad’s tree, grandad’s love of gardening and the care and nurturing he and grandma give Josh and his mum after dad’s death… these moments of such tenderness balance out the extreme harness of the gritty plotline.

I’m so glad I read Grow, it’s a must read for parents and teachers and absolutely needs to be on the shelves of every secondary school library.

Grow was published by Firefly Press on the 1st of July.

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