FUSE

SA Partridge

Human & Rousseau

Following the success of The Goblet Club, S.A. Partridge has penned a second novel for youth, this time focusing on the relationship between two brothers.

The younger of the two, Kendall, hates home where he is ridiculed by his adoptive father, and at school he is mercilessly bullied. It's no wonder then that Kendall, a vulnerable teen, falls under the influence of an unstable friend which has dire consequences for the pair of misfits.

Brothers Justin and Kendall are brought closer as Kendall is forced to flee 'the suburbs', and Justin goes with him. The brothers bond more deeply in the second half of the novel as they survive living rough on the streets of Cape Town, and further afield in Pretoria.

In the face of various threats, Justin is fiercely protective towards his younger brother, and Kendall in turn looks up to Justin - at times with adoration.

Of her interest in writing youth literature, Partridge says, "Most of the teen lit out there is set in England or the US. I think it's time to give young South Africans something to be excited about, something they can relate to."

I cannot agree more. It is notoriously difficult to woo teen readers from screen time - TV, cellphones and computers - and it's especially difficult to please them. The importance of creating a reading culture in SA also can't be overemphasised, and what better way to do this than to give teens stories set at 'home', enticing teens with subject matter and characters written from a South African sensibility.

Robin Malan, editor of the Siyagruva Series of novels for South African teens, talks of the necessity to keep teens reading.

"Small children may get reading opportunities at school, but by the time you're a teenager, many schools seem to imagine that leisure reading is not a part of their concern. So, somehow, there needs to be a drive to produce books that attract teen readers. If we have young writers like Sally-Ann Partridge producing novels, that's certainly a move in the right direction."

Exposed as young teens are to contemporary problems of crime and abuse, the content of Fuse will hit home. The novel's strength lies in the brothers' bond, but - considering the destructive relationship Justin and Kendall have with their mother and her inability to handle their father's abusive behaviour - the story is too easily resolved.

Partridge's capacity to tackle hard-hitting issues is commendable, though I'd liked to have had more emotional substance between the pages, as well as more specific South African detail. That said, with sequential time-line, short chapters, contemporary language and dialogue, action-filled Fuse engages as an adventure story and is an accessible read for young teens.

- Joanne Hichens