Naked by Kevin Brooks, published on 6th October 2011 by Puffin
London, 1976: a summer of chaos, punk, love ...and the boy they called Billy the Kid. It was the summer of so many things. Heat and violence, love and hate, heaven and hell. It was the time I met William Bonney - the boy from Belfast known as Billy the Kid. I've kept William's secrets for a long time, but now things have changed and I have to tell the truth. But I can't begin until I've told you about Curtis Ray. Hip, cool, rebellious Curtis Ray. Without Curtis, there wouldn't be a story to tell. It's the story of our band, of life and death ...and everything in between.
This is the first Kevin Brooks book I've read. He's an incredibly popular author and as I've been wanting to read one of his novels for a while I was excited about the opportunity to review his new title. I also discovered while reading the press release that he hails from my home town so I was doubly pleased!
The main thing I enjoyed about 'Naked' was the way in which Kevin Brooks really captured the essence of the seventies and set about recreating the culture of the day, including the different groups which were prevalent at the time - the punks, skinheads and rockers. Although the seventies is not an era that I'm particularly familiar with and indeed I wasn't even born during 1976, the year the book is set, everything is described so vividly that it didn't take much imagination for me to feel transported back in time and immersed in the period. With references to bands such as the Sex Pistols, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, I felt like I was right in the heart of an era characterised by sex, drugs and rock n roll.
The inclusion of a sub-plot involving the IRA conflict between the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland was an interesting angle and added depth to the story. It also helped to illustrate the divide which can occur between different groups of people, whether punk or skinhead, black or white, Protestant or Catholic. This was quite a heavy-hitting and gritty storyline so probably better suited to slightly older teen readers.
Although I didn't instantly connect with the story, mainly I think because the subject matter wasn't one that I would normally choose, I did find the characters fascinating. There's the main character Lili, who starts off on the straight and narrow and is gradually seduced by Curtis, who gets her mixed up in the music world and who shows her the real life behind the glamour of being in a band. I liked the fact that the book had a female narrator and I enjoyed following the evolution of her character as she falls under the spell of one boy, only to end up seduced by another. My favourite character was actually William Bonney or Billy the Kid as he's nicknamed. When Lili meets William everything changes and he opens her eyes to a lot of things. William is kept deliberately mysterious for a large part of the first half of the book until he opens up to Lili and reveals a number of secrets. I found him so intriguing and I was continually left wanting to know more and more about him.
Kevin Brooks doesn't hold back from confronting difficult topics. 'Naked' does deal with some hardhitting themes but the grittiness underlining the novel is part of what makes it such an interesting book. Although this one didn't win me over entirely, Brooks's writing is intelligent and perceptive and I'm looking forward to giving more of his novels a go in the future.