Life for Angie Watts used to be so good: she had a loving husband, three adored children, Liam, Grace and Zac, and a beautiful home. Then, whilst still at primary school, Liam, her sensitive, vulnerable eldest child became involved with a bad crowd from a local, rough estate and started taking drugs. Whilst Angie and her husband Steve tried their best to steer him away from these bad influences, their gentle son gradually became almost unrecognisable and they found themselves unable to combat the manipulative power of the gang culture. Steve’s patience finally snapped when he discovered their youngest child, five-year-old Zac, with a syringe in his hand. He stormed out of the house, determined to track down Liam, and other members of the gang, and turn them all in to the police. This decision leads to his murder and will have far-reaching repercussions for the rest of the family as Angie struggles to cope in the aftermath. Having refused to allow Liam back home immediately after Steve’s murder she now has no idea where he is but, full of regret about her rejection of him, and determined to hold her fractured family together, she remains tireless in her efforts to find him. She is made redundant, struggles to make ends meet and, in spite of selling treasured belongings, falls deeper and deeper into debt and eventually faces losing her home. Grace, wanting to do something to earn money to ease her mother’s problems, exposes herself to danger when she looks for help in the wrong place.

This story explores how easy it is for an apparently stable family to start to disintegrate following a major crisis. Angie, the main character, is a loving mother, determined to do her best for her children and to keep her family together but this doesn’t prevent her from falling victim to spiralling debt and an increasingly desperate feeling that, in spite of all her efforts, her life is running out of control. Although there were moments when I felt irritated by her ostrich-like tendency to ignore the implications of her mounting debts, the story did demonstrate that there are huge problems with the way in which the benefit system works, problems which all too often contribute to driving hard-working families into increasing debt.

The storyline incorporates many of the challenges which affect contemporary society. These include the pernicious influence of county lines gangs which infiltrate small communities, preying on vulnerable young people and introducing easy access to drugs before turning them into either addicts or couriers, or sometimes both; the lack of suitable accommodation available when families become homeless; struggles with mental health; pay-day loans; human trafficking and internet grooming via social media.

Although there are many ways in which I found this to be a well-written, well-researched and thought-provoking story, and think that the author created characters it was easy to feel some empathy with, I ended up feeling rather dissatisfied. I think this was mainly because, given the dark nature of some of the themes explored, some of the resolutions felt far too neatly resolved and “fairy-tale” for my taste. However, I think the book would provide some interesting topics for reading group discussion.

Linda Hepworth 3/4

Home Truths by Susan Lewis
HarperCollins 9780008286781 hbk Aug 2019