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Aeon McMenahem is a mixed race teenager from Liverpool in the early 1990s. He makes poor life choices but seems to be a fundamentally good kid. 


Aeon decides to travel to Jamaica for his seventeenth birthday - partly in search of his roots and partly in search of a party. He travels with his older cousin Increase and they book into Peach Paradise resort in Montego Bay. Aeon soon discovers that he has little in common with the locals, and that Jamaica is not always the party haven he had hoped. His holiday starts badly and gets worse. 


Locks is an interesting and convincing travel back in time to the 1980s. The social values differ from today and Ashleigh Nugent acknowledges this up front. Some of the racial language used would not be acceptable in 2023. The systematic and overt social exclusion - with teachers, police and officialdom judging people on the melanin in their skin - would not fly today. That doesn't, of course, mean there is no longer racial discrimination, but it is probably more subtle and dressed up more as a meritocracy based on social class. 


Aeon doesn't fit comfortably in the accepted categorisations, being deemed black when in England and being deemed white when in Jamaica. He is not poor and not streetwise in England, and is not smart and patrician in Jamaica. He manages always to be on the wrong side - on the outside. Increase, on the other hand. seems much more worldly wise and after trying out various different world-views has fallen for the side of pragmatism. He seems to have reconciled being both black and British. 


The story is really farcical and jaw-dropping. It is therefore a surprise to read Nugent's endnotes claiming that the novel is basically autobiographical. This would explain why the creation of the world - of Montego Bay, of Kingston, and of the way Jamaican society functions is so convincing. But it doesn't sit easily to know that a real 16 year old could be treated the way Aeon is treated. 


The novel is written with some heavy patois (with a particular focus on feminine hygiene products) that takes some acclimatisation. There is switching back and forth from the present day in Jamaica to back story in Liverpool - sometimes in the middle of conversations. This, too, takes some getting used to. And there are some dreamlike sequences that would be attributed to drugs but which offer important historical context. This is not perfectly executed but worth persevering with. 


Overall, this is a work that seems teenage rite-of-passage but which has real hidden depth in social commentary on race and colonialism. 





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