It only takes a small incident to upset the status quo

John Millen
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The Ant Colony

By Jenny Valentine

Published by HarperCollins

ISBN 978 0 00 728359 0

Number 33 Georgiana Street is a rooming house in north London. The area has seen better days, and so has the house. The present tenants are old Isabel, who thinks she owns the place and enjoys sticking her nose into other peoples' business, smarmy Steve the landlord, loner Mick, 30-something Cherry and her 10-year-old daughter, Bo.

A new resident arrives: 17-year-old Sam comes to London from the country, and needs a cheap place to live where nobody will bother him. At first, 33 Georgiana Street seems ideal: he needs a fresh start and to vanish without a trace.

Award-winning author Jenny Valentine's new novel, The Ant Colony, will interest teenage readers who like to read about real people sorting out their lives. The inhabitants of No. 33 are a mixed bunch, and Valentine easily draws us in to the mysteries of these characters' daily existence, telling the story in alternating chapters from Sam and Bo's perspectives.

A mystery in Sam's past keeps the pace up, along with the hope that something good will soon happen to Bo. She is a bright child who has never had a chance. Her mother is a selfish no-hoper, drifting from man to man and living wherever she can. Bo has to feed herself on junk food as Cherry sleeps off her drunkenness. When Sam moves in, Bo sees someone who might become a friend. But Sam just sees Bo as a nuisance to be avoided.

Sam gets a job in a local convenience store and tries his best to stay on his own. But Bo can't accept this - she wants to be his friend and persists in following him around, hoping for a kind gesture. Sam slowly befriends the lonely girl, and soon secrets start to come to the surface.

No. 33 is like an ant colony. And like ants, the residents scurry about their business, crossing each other's paths with little interaction. But it doesn't take much to upset the ordered balance of an ant colony.

When Bo disappears, the inhabitants of No. 33 get a wake-up call. They now have to involuntarily work together to discover what has happened to the little girl. What they discover is exactly what Sam has been working so hard to hide.

The Ant Colony is an unusual story of two young people whose paths just happen to cross. Valentine knows how to create characters to care about, and the two leads in this dazzlingly written novel draw you into their lives with unforgettable ease. Valentine's third novel is a clever, absorbing and unmissable read.

John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]