Wild East by Ashley Hickson-Lovence

Wild East – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: Poetic, dramatic, realistic, powerful, accessible.
YA book title: Wild East.
YA author: Ashley Hickson-Lovence.
YA illustrator: Camilla Ru.
Genre: Novel in verse.
Published by: Penguin.
ISBN: 9780241645444.
Recommended for children aged: 12+ year-olds.
First published: Paperback May 2024.
This children’s book is ideal for: Music and spoken word poetry fans .

Wild East by Ashley Hickson-Lovence

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Our review:

Being a young boy, sometimes
in the wrong place
at the wrong time
through the wrong eyes,
can be deadly.

A case of mistaken identity results in an unprovoked violent attack on a London bus and fourteen-year-old Ronny’s best friend Maz is killed. Terrified that Ronny will be next, his mum moves them to the perceived safety of Norwich.

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Moving from a diverse neighbourhood to being one of the few Black students in a nearly all-White school inevitably makes Ronny feel like an outsider. Traumatised by events in London, he’s determined to keep his head down, avoid trouble and secretly work towards his dream of becoming a rapper.

I’m obsessed by rhythm, and beat,
the lyrics and the delivery.
Basically every day,
I’ve got some snippet of some song
stuck in my head.

When a local poet comes to the school to lead a series of enrichment sessions, Ronny begins to explore a new avenue for his creative talents. Rap and spoken word poetry share a beat and an impact that feels highly relevant to his confusing new life. When he’s offered a place on a prestigious writing retreat, Ronny seizes the chance to write his own future while coming to terms with his troubled past.

When life’s on track
Put pen to paper
And find your way back.

Wild East is the exciting YA debut from adult novelist and poet Ashley Hickson-Lovence. Ronny’s story was inspired by Ashley’s own move from London to Norwich, as well as his experience tutoring asylum seekers. He dedicates the book to those who’ve “ever felt unseen, unsure or unsafe” and shares his own experiences as an outsider, who rarely saw books that reflected his life as a teenager. Authentic diverse representation is still a challenge in children’s and young adult publishing, but Wild East makes an important contribution that will help to inspire those who “may not consider themselves readers but are still, in some, way, in some form, a lover of words.

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The book is a welcome addition to the growing genre of verse novels. Such books have a particular appeal with young adult readers due to their ability to get straight to the heart of difficult situations, with deceptively simple phrasing and impactful language. While most verse novels are structured around page-long poems, those in Wild East are longer and more free-flowing, with one long poem for each monthly chapter as Ronny chronicles his pivotal year.

The inclusion of Ronny’s own writing and mentions of real poets such as Dean Atta and Manjeet Mann gives an appealing inter-textual element to the story. The occasional line drawings by Camilla Ru add to the journal feel of the text, enhancing the reader’s identification with Ronny as he struggles to adjust to a new life.

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Wild East deals with some difficult and potentially triggering topics including physical violence, knife crime and county lines. Despite this, it is a positive, uplifting tale that will inspire future word-smiths and those who dare to dream of better things to come.

Wild East is an engaging, highly relevant tale that will appeal to fans of Steven Camden’s Stand Up Ferran Burke and Kwame Alexander’s Swing.

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Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.

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If you like Wild East by Ashley Hickson-Lovence you might also like: our reviews of The Silver Chain, written and illustrated by Jion Sheibani, Crossing the Line by Tia Fisher, The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow, illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton and Musical Truth by Jeffrey Boakye.

Browse our Year 9 reading list

About Melanie Dillon

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Melanie has a Master’s degree in Information and Library Management; a Post Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature focusing on the Reading Agency’s Reading Well scheme & LGBT YA fiction, and extensive experience working in school and public libraries. Linkedin | Reviews by Melanie Dillon