Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from Pansing Books, a regional distributor, in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.London Belongs to Us by Sara Manning • contains 272 pages • published June 2, 2016 by Hot Key Books • classified as Contemporary, Young Adult • obtained through Pansing Books • read as ARC • shelve on Goodreads
Twelve hours, two boys, one girl... and a whole lot of hairspray.
Seventeen-year-old Sunny’s always been a little bit of a pushover. But when she’s sent a picture of her boyfriend kissing another girl, she knows she’s got to act. What follows is a mad, twelve-hour dash around London – starting at 8pm in Crystal Palace (so far away from civilisation you can’t even get the Tube there) then sweeping through Camden, Shoreditch, Soho, Kensington, Notting Hill... and ending up at 8am in Alexandra Palace.
Along the way Sunny meets a whole host of characters she never dreamed she’d have anything in common with – least of all the devilishly handsome (and somewhat vain) French ‘twins’ (they’re really cousins) Jean Luc and Vic. But as this love-letter to London shows, a city is only a sum of its parts, and really it’s the people living there who make up its life and soul. And, as Sunny discovers, everyone – from friends, apparent-enemies, famous bands and even rickshaw drivers – is willing to help a girl on a mission TO get her romantic retribution.
Heavy on the Locale
Bust out your London maps! Needless to say, the city’s most central to London Belongs to Us. Anyone who lives in or has ever been to London is bound to appreciate the landmarks that the characters pass through in this book. I’ve never set foot onto the capital of the UK, so I might’ve derived greater joy if it had been set in Geneva, Paris, Rome, Berlin or another big city I have been to. Nonetheless, I appreciated the sentiment behind the heavy focus on the locale.
As Sunny chased across the city through the night, each chapter began with a brief introduction to the place — Crystal Palace or Dalston or Mayfair, etc. Following her route on a map revealed how much ground she covered. It was a lot for one night! Tracing the route also helped string up the series of events as they were tied to particular places in London.
Quick Pace, Short Time Span
Everything in London Belongs to Us happened in the span of about 12 hours. Sunny’s mum and stepfather holidayed in France, leaving Sunny home alone for a week. Upon learning that her boyfriend cheated on her, a nightlong chase ensued. During her pursuit she made new friends and acted out in ways she normally wouldn’t have. This gave rise to a lot of entertaining moments, some of which became more reckless as the night wore on.
Diversity Without Pomp
Sunny’s biracial, British-African, which affected her relations with people but her ethnicity was organic to the book. On one hand, pertinent points of racism were raised, such as recollections of her father being stopped on the road because he drove a nice car. He could afford it because he was a lawyer but people had difficulties accepting an affluent black man. At the same time, Manning didn’t introduce a lot of fanfare to draw attention to the “diversity”. Sunny just was and that’s the kind of integration I hope to see in more books.
French Boys, French Language
Vic and Jean-Luc were two rather curious characters. They made the night of London Belongs to Us very colourful. They were odd and out of place and yet naturally slid into Sunny’s night. They were a strange duo, as cousins sometimes are. They’re incredibly different but fit together because they’ve known each other their entire lives.
Jean-Luc had a strong preference for French over English since he grew up in France, so there was a lot of French integrated into his speech. Most of it was followed by English explanations. That didn’t hamper my reading. Even with my basic knowledge of French the prose flowed freely because rather than adding direct translations, Manning sought to convey the meanings of what the characters communicated.
Travel & History in Fiction
London Belongs to Us felt like a mental getaway, offering travel while staying right at home. To some degree, it came across like a stripped down guidebook and a novel at once. The snippets that introduced the places in each chapter juxtaposed history against the present, reminding readers that even a city lives. It changes and transforms over time and anyone who passes through leaves a mark.
The plot wasn’t too elaborate but that’s a limitation of books that take place in a single day or night. In any case, the characters and settings in themselves already had so much to offer, I didn’t mind that the plot lacked complexity. London Belongs to Us was great fun and that’s what mattered in the end.