Sunday 19 December 2010

Review: The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan

Sam knows that he and his friend Lloyd made a colossal mistake when they accepted the ride home. They have ended up in a dark mansion in the middle of nowhere with man who means to harm them. But Sam doesn't know how to get them out. They were trapped, then separated. Now they are alone. Will either of them get out alive?

If ever there was a book that should be required reading for every 11+ boy or girl then it is The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan. The content does not make for comfortable reading, and as a parent you may find yourself having to answer some awkward questions that you may not be entirely at ease with, but that is why this book is so important as it looks at what could happen to a young person if they happen to let their guard down for just one moment. In simple terms it looks at the abduction of two boys, but from their point of view as opposed to that of the parents, which we see on TV and in books all too often. We see how a simple misunderstanding leads the boys to find themselves at the mercy of a human predator whose motives are only too apparent to us as readers. We witness how the two boys react to this danger, with one becoming the hero and taking control whilst the other, previously more confident boy, retreats into his shell.

As a teacher who comes into contact with young people on a daily basis this book did not make for pleasant reading at times as I could picture this sort of thing happening so easily to children I know well. I would say that at school every six weeks or so we have a call from a parent to inform us that their child was approached by a man in a van on their way to or from school. Fortunately, every time the young person or people concerned have acted with common sense and a maturity sometimes beyond their years, and no bad has come of this. However, I know this is not the case for many families and schools up and down the country, and this makes the plot of The Long Weekend even more hard hitting. I know so many kids who think they are streetwise, and yet could so easily end up in a situation similar to the one that Sam and Lloyd find themselves in. Savita Kalhan should be commended for tackling the rarely covered subject of child abduction and abuse (in YA books at least) in a way that is both gritty and sensitive.

This is a dark, dark story and may not be suitable for less mature readers. Although it isn't mentioned explicitly in the story, a simple case of reading between the lines suggests that something very bad happens to Lloyd whilst Sam is locked in another room. There are no graphic details of this assault, the author very cleverly leaves it to the imagination of the reader to fill in the blanks, and it is this that makes the book so frightening, perhaps even more so if you are a parent. In Sam and Lloyd, Ms Kalhan has created a pair of very believable 'boy next door' characters and as a reader I very quickly felt an affinity towards them, something else I believe contributed to the queasy feeling I had in my stomach as soon as it became apparent that they had been abducted.

The Long Weekend is probably best read in a single sitting, although at only 180 pages this won't take a huge chunk out of your day. I would also suggest reading it during daylight hours - there are no supernatural demons, vampires, zombies or werewolves, but it is just as scary as any of the recent YA horror stories that have been released, if not more so. And one final suggestion - perhaps parents should read it before their kids as only they will know whether their child will be mature enough to cope with the issues covered.

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