Little Island’s A Lonely Note by Kevin Stevens won TWO accolades within the past ten days. It won the Literacy Association of Ireland book award in the YA category, for books published in 2015–16. And it was IBBY Ireland’s Honour Book for Writing, also for books published in the past two years.
Kevin Stevens is a very fine stylist whose pellucid prose comes singing off the page. He also has a surefooted sense of drama, which gives structure and shape to his story, while ratcheting up the tension as the novel climaxes in a scene of kidnapping, police siege and barely suppressed potential for serious violence.
At the heart of this novel is young Tariq, a teenager from a middle-class Iraqi family living now in the United States, who is struggling to become a man in an alien society that despises his culture. He is also under pressure from home values that are in tension with the values of the world around him.
As Tariq’s father retreats further from western norms and immerses himself more and more in his passionate commitment to Islam, Tariq, who is trying to adjust to a more secular culture, feels alienated from him. Tariq looks to his more open-minded uncle to be an adult male role model, and indeed uncle and nephew, both musicians, are close. But then his uncle dies and Tariq is bereft: he has lost not only his beloved relative, but his primary father figure. Into this gap steps the extraordinary, charismatic Jamal, a veteran of the Iraq war. Jamal is a jazz aficionado, and he introduces Tariq to a whole new musical experience that Tariq finds exciting and inspiring, especially the music of John Coltrane.
Jamal is, however, deeply disturbed as a result of his war experiences, and his protective feelings for Tariq lead him to attack and kidnap a boy who has been bullying Tariq. The police need Tariq’s help: he is the only one that Jamal will listen to, and the book comes to a breathtaking climax as Tariq enters the house where Jamal is holding the boy hostage and risks his life not for his friend but for his enemy.
Tariq has achieved manhood at that moment, and his need for a father-figure is resolved: he has, in effect, become his own father and a role model for the older man.
This is what the judges of the LAI award had to say about A Lonely Note:
‘A quite wonderful addition to the literature for young adults describing the immigrant experience, this is a stand-out book. … The story is beautifully written, with well-developed characters that tackles issues such as bullying, alienation, religion and teenage uncertainty, seamlessly woven into an engaging and gripping story. It has a great voice and is a well written account of the struggle for identity. Simply superb.’
by Siobhán Parkinson