Thursday, 26 January 2012

Thrilling Thursday: Review of Fifteen Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins

This amazing family-based tale mixes comedy with gut-wrenching realism.

Author: Dave Cousins
Title: Fifteen Days Without a Head
Genre: YA Realism
Series: no
Publisher: OUP
Published: 5 Jan 2012
Source: purchased (Kindle version)

Find it at Goodreads or Amazon UK

Description from Amazon:
Fifteen-year-old Laurence Roach just wants a normal life, but it's not easy when your mum is a depressed alcoholic, and your six-year-old brother thinks he's a dog. When Mum fails to come home one night, Laurence tells nobody, terrified he and his brother will be taken into care if anyone finds out. Instead, he attempts to keep up the pretence that Mum is still around: dressing up in her clothes to trick the neighbours and spinning an increasingly complicated tangle of lies. After two weeks on their own, running out of food and money, and with suspicious adults closing in, Laurence finally discovers what happened to his mother. And that's when the trouble really starts . . . A compelling thriller filled with some hilarious and surreal moments. Fifteen Days Without a Head is a tender, honest story about family, forgiveness and hope.

My verdict: an incredible debut, making great use of humour to deal with a decidedly unfunny scenario. Highly recommended.
Dave Cousins is a gifted writer. The grimness of life with an alcoholic mother is conveyed convincingly here, and our hearts break for these two lads. And yet, at the same time, this is a laugh-out-loud, enjoyable story.

Laurence narrates his own story, in the present tense, lending it immediacy and freshness. His voice is realistic as a fifteen-year old boy and as our narrator, we see the worries which he keeps back from everyone else, especially his brother Jay. Jay is also a great character, obsessed with Scooby Doo and given to pretending to be a dog. Their mum is also sensitively - but not sentimentally - drawn and we can see both how difficult her actions make life for her kids and the love they have for her.

The story is pacey and we have a real sense of things closing in on Laurence, while the tension is ramped up by his determination to protect Jay. Of course, since Jay is only six, he is too young to be confided in, so Laurence's isolation is total. It is also impossible to fail to be impressed by the way Laurence grows up and takes responsibility - even if sometimes this is approached via crazy half-baked schemes such as a desperate teenager might come up with. The 'dressing up as Mum' episode in particular is hilarious!

I can see how this book has made such an impact online and would absolutely add my voice to all those urging people to read it. It has broad appeal - both genders, a range of ages - and is important in terms of making lives like the Roaches' visible in a sympathetic and highly entertaining way. I'm certain Dave Cousins is destined for a great future in books.


  1. Thanks for such a great review, Beth. Best wishes, Dave.

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