This month seems to be a little fantasy-heavy and so today I’m going to be looking at something entirely different. Concentr8 is young adult contemporary novel containing some light science fiction elements. It was written by Carnegie Medal nominee William Sutcliffe and is due for release later this month. As I’m reading from an advanced copy that I got from Netgalley, please note that it may contain some differences from the published work.

In the not too distant future, 10% of all school children have been placed on Concentr8 – a drug which reportedly treats ADHD faster and more effectively than Ritalin. For a number of years, the rate of youth crime seems to decrease. However, when the government decide to withdraw supplies of the drug, riots suddenly break out all over London. Free of the effects of Concentr8, everyone seems to go wild and set out on an uncontrollable spree of theft and destruction.

In the midst of the rioting, Blaze has a plan. Enlisting the help of his small gang – Troy, Karen, Lee and Femi – he treks to City Hall and takes the first employee that leaves the building hostage. He leads the middle aged man to a warehouse at knife-point and chains him to the radiator before setting down to wait. It is not long before they are surround by police and hostage negotiators, desperate to know what his demands are.

The strange thing is that Blaze doesn’t seem to have any. As the days tick by, his gang starts to grow increasingly nervous as they have no idea what their leader is planning. However, over the course of five long days, we see how the riot affects not only them but a journalist, the hostage negotiator and the Mayor of London and slowly we begin to understand exactly what has driven Blaze to this act…

If nothing else, it is clear that Concentr8 is a very ambitious novel. Of its many themes, the most prevalent is how the English government fails children again and again. It becomes rapidly clear over the course of the story that Concent8 is being used as a preventative rather than a cure. It is not just a prescription medicine that is given to children who need it, it’s generally just a way to make problem cases just go away. You can imagine the positive spin that is placed on this by the government. The crime rate drops, children who were previously troublesome become calm and easily managed and parents are given benefit payments for having a child with a “disability”. It’s one of those situations that seems to be win/win…until you consider the effect that this is having on the children.

The novel offers plenty of food for thought in this regard. Is it morally acceptable to medicate children just to make everyone else’s lives easier? The effects seem to be evident but it’s clear that children are being royally shafted. They are becoming the scapegoats – blamed for all of society’s ills. Their diagnosis is not done because there is a medical need, it seems to be largely pressured by teachers who just want the problem cases to go away. The question always hangs as to whether or not Concentr8 is a good thing – if it genuinely helps or if it’s just stopping kids from being kids. None of the characters are sure on this point as the teenagers don’t remember life before the medication and so the ultimate decision with regards to this is left open to reader.

The most unsettling aspect of the tale are the short paragraphs that begin each chapter. These are excepts taken from a number of different sources, ranging from medical journals to twitter posts, that talk about Ritalin. The scary thing that this reveals is, reality is not that far removed from this story. The side effects and ethical debates surrounding the use of Ritalin are very similar to those of Concentr8, leaving you wondering just how much of this novel is actually fictional. Yet, for all of the interesting food for thought that this story provides, it’s unfortunately not as engaging as it sounds.

Concentr8 feels a lot longer than it actually is. Goodreads tells me that the book is about 324 pages long but it moves so slowly that it sometimes feels as though it’s twice this length. While it often feels as though it is building to something, it unfortunately goes out with a whimper rather than a bang. Most of the story hinges on Blaze’s “plan”. For the first two thirds of the tale, the reader is left in the same position as the rest of his gang. He seemingly has no reason for abducting the hostage but is threatening to any of the teens who express a desire to bail. When Blaze’s motivation is finally revealed it’s…well…disappointing. I won’t spoil it here in case you want to read the book but just don’t set your hopes too high. It really isn’t a great plot twist.

The story also cuts out rather abruptly at the conclusion. While the whole hostage situation is resolved, we don’t really get to see how the events of the climax have a lasting effect on the cast. We only get a glimpse at what happens to the Journalist and Troy after the event. We don’t even find out what the eventual fate is for anyone else. This probably would have been a disappointment if I was invested in the novel but I unfortunately just felt a little glad that it was all over.

The most frustrating thing about this story is the structure. The book is told from the perspective of several characters – Blaze, Troy, Karen, Femi, Lee, the Journalist, the Hostage, the Hostage Negotiator and the Mayor. While some of these characters narrate more than others (I think that Troy and the Journalist probably get the most page time while Blaze only has one chapter), the fragmented structure just made the characters hard to like. Other than the Hostage, who you can’t help but feel sorry for, there was really not a likable character in the bunch.

The Journalist and Mayor are almost entirely self-serving. They care about their careers above anything else, only interested in the hostage situation as far as they can use it to paint themselves in a heroic light (the Mayor) or get a decent scoop (the Journalist). However, at least their sections are easy to read. The teenagers are hard to like purely because their sections are written from the perspective of illiterate teens who are in the process of breaking the law. This is a difficult thing to look past as, even though most of them were quick to blame Blaze, they were all complicit in the kidnapping. Blaze never forced any of them to do anything, they could have walked away at any time.

While Troy and Femi are actually fairly eloquent, the chapters written by Lee and Karen degenerate into gibberish. Karen has a bad habit of ending every sentence as though it’s a question? I mean, she does this all the time? Even when she’s not actually asking a question? Annoying, right? While Lee (who is portrayed as being a little on the slow side) speaks in one continuous sentence with no punctuation. This didn’t really make me sympathise with either of them at all. I just wanted to skim through their chapters to get back to ones that were a little easier on the eyes.

So, in conclusion, Concentr8 is an incredibly ambitious novel that will certainly give you plenty to think about but it is unfortunately pretty hard to read. There are too many unlikable narrators, the text is sometimes jarring and the book is just far too slow. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever reviewed but it was just underwhelming on the whole.

Concentr8 is due for release on the 27th August and is currently available to pre-order on

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. hermionefowl
    Aug 22, 2015 @ 21:50:43

    The start of the review sounded so promising, I was getting my hopes up. But the narration sounds terrible! Thanks for warning me away, it’s definitely something I would have picked up otherwise 🙂


    • Kim
      Aug 22, 2015 @ 21:55:05

      Happy to help. I felt the same way reading it. The blurb sounded really promising and I like what the novel is trying to do but the narrative structure is frustrating. Not my cup of tea at all.


  2. Trackback: Hello Mum | Arkham Reviews

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