A quick note: If you’re not in the mood to read my rambles and would rather listen to me ramble about this book instead (or if you want both!) I joined Diem over at Bookish Friends to talk about this book. You can hear our spoiler-free review here, or our spoilerific discussion here.
There are a lot of quotes out there about how great London is. My favourite is from Samuel Johnson, who said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. I can agree with him there. London is one of those places I could endlessly return to and explore (if we ignore the cost because YIKES), so it took me about half the blurb of London Belongs to Us by Sarra Manning to be convinced this was I book I’d adore. This story reads like a love letter to London, and my initial reaction was correct – I completely adored it.
Here’s the synopsis (thank you 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.
A fast-paced, darkly funny love letter to London, boys with big hair and the joys of staying up all night.
This is the first of Sarra Manning’s books that I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last (in fact I’ve already read another: The Worst Girlfriend in the World, which I also enjoyed). I whizzed through London Belongs to Us in a matter of hours, and holy guacamole were those a delightful few hours. don’t was one of those books that I felt happier and uplifted for having read it.
I’ll admit that I may have developed a teensy crush on Jean-Luc Godard, one of the dashing young French boys who join Sunny on her hunt for her no-good boyfriend. I have to hand it to Sarra Manning, she sure can write a swoon-worthy character.
The character development throughout the story was all A+, but I particularly enjoyed seeing Jean-Luc and his cousin Vic develop over the course of the story from the two good-looking, sharply dressed, mysterious and almost caricature-like French dudes we meet at thr beginning of the story into two very distinct, lovely and flawed (though still sharply-dressed) characters. Sunny’s friendship, and how it develops is also brilliantly executed.
WARNING GUSHING AHEAD (also very minor spoilers that won’t ruin your reading of the book but still refer to things that happen towards the end so be careful my friend)
And oh Jean-Luc. It’s been a while since I’ve read about a character I’ve so completely adored. And the BROOM I TELL YOU. When he appears at the end after he gets lost (as someone who doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to public transport mishaps, I could relate. Always double check you’re getting on the right train, kids) I was flailing a little. Even when he was surly and pretending not to speak English, I adored reading about him. His relationship with his cousin, Vic, was gorgeously written and hilarious (You used my name?) and I found him to be this quietly lovely, dashing character who was totally crush-worthy.
I recently found out that Sarra Manning’s books are all set in the same universe, so I’m holding onto the hope that he’ll make a reappearance.
French boys weren’t the only reason I loved this book, believe it or not. And I feel a little bad for all the gushing, because this isn’t really a book about boys. It’s a book about self-discovery and learning to fight for what you deserve and the beauty of London. The true love story in this book is between Sunny and her city, with London springing to life off the pages. The sense of place was just wonderful.
Sunny, as a protagonist, was sensational. Even though the story is set over a time span of less than 24 hours, her growth never feels forced or unnatural – she doesn’t have a sudden epiphany, rather everyone she meets and everything she experiences over the night slowly add up to build her into a very different person to who she was at the beginning of the book. At the beginning, she’s a self-proclaimed doormat, in fear of being the “angry black girl”, but by the end she’s able to stand up for herself and recognise that she doesn’t have to take crap from anyone (particularly the UTTERLY DESPICABLE AND ALL SORTS OF HORRIBLE SLEAZEBALL Mark. Ugh). This book isn’t so much about Sunny finding herself as it is about herfinding her voice, and one of my favourite things about this story is seeing her grow from the girl who is intimidated by everyone and everything into a confident you woman.
Another element of London Belongs to Us that I loved was that it managed to touch onto some issues that are a little more serious than I was expecting to find in a loght-hearted contemporary. Namely racism – in particular racial stereotypes – and slut-shaming. And I felt like this was done in a way that was neither superficial nor out of place. As important as issue books can be, I’d like to see more fun books take into account things like racism and slut-shaming (without making light of them, obvs) and weave them into the story and have characters affected by them, just like people are in real life, but still not being the point of the story. I thought that both issues were included in a way that was nuanced and considerate, and brought a lot to the story.
I could ramble for ages about all the little touches the the book that I thought were fantastic: the lists and pie charts, the histories of different parts of London, the side characters. Everything about London Belongs to Us added up wonderfully to create a book that was without a doubt one of my favourites of 2016. It’s something I can see myslef rereading many times in the future.