Kevin Brooks, author of the 2014 Carnegie Medal winner The Bunker Diary, is best known for writing gritty young adult novels with a strong sense of realism, and he does not fall short with The Road of the Dead.
The Road of the Dead is a 2006 young adult crime fiction novel about two teenage brothers trying to find their sister’s killer. Fourteen-year-old Ruben Ford and his older brother Cole both set out with little money and a lot of drive to the deserted moorland in Lychombe where her battered body was found. What’s done is done. Now they just want to bring closure to their family by finding out who raped and murdered their sister, Rachel. Only then can the police wrap up the investigation and finally give them back her body, so they can bury and mourn her properly.
The story is told in first person, focusing on Ruben’s thoughts and feelings towards the situation and how it has affected his family. It also allows us to see the bond he has with his brother on a personal level. The fraternal relationship between Ruben and Cole makes the events that unfold more impactful – because if something bad happens to one of them, you know it will affect the other. However, the two could not be more different: while Cole is streetwise, sometimes putting himself in the line of fire if it means protecting Ruben, our narrator is academic-smart, making up a brain-and-brawn unity.
Ruben is also, in a sense, telepathic. Not only do we read the story from Ruben’s point of view, but he is sometimes able to see events happen outside his body to people he is close with (like Cole and Rachel). He feels Rachel’s pain the night she is murdered and sees parts of the event unfold through her eyes. It allows the reader other perspectives without the narrator physically needing to be there and sets the tone for the rest of the novel, showing the story is something more than a simple first-person narrative.
The graphic events Brooks describes keep readers hooked: the situation is bleak and the antagonists are brutal. It made me root for Ruben and Cole. Ruben does not belong in the danger-zone he finds himself entering and because his voice is so believable, so relatable, you cannot help sympathising with him. You want to follow him on this hazardous journey and you don’t want anything bad to happen … But bad things do happen. However, while the graphic detail in Brooks’ novel reels in readers, it could also deter some parents. Not everyone will want their teenagers exposed to the grittiness of rape, murder, swearing and violent attacks. Although the book is for young adults, I feel it depends on the individual’s maturity.
In 2007, the novel was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and it is clear why. The Road of the Dead is a powerful read that will have you gripped until the last page. Not only is it action-packed and fast-paced but it creates suspense in all the right places. I struggled to put it down. It is a book that will stay with you for a long time.