Night Of The Party by Tracey Mathias

The Blurb On The Back:

How do you speak out if you have no rights?

After withdrawing from the EU, Britain is governed by The Party, and everyone born outside the country is subject to immediate arrest and deportation.  Failing to report illegals is a crime.

Zara is the only one who knows how her friend Sophie died.  But Zara’s an illegal.

She can’t tell anyone her secrets.  Not even Ash, the boy she loves.  The boy who needs to know the truth.

As the country prepared for an election, Zara must take an impossible choice. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s the near future.  Britain has left the European Union, Scotland has split from the union and England and Wales are now governed by The Party (a fiercely anti-immigrant, pro law and order party).  18 months ago the Party introduced the Born British policy: anyone not born in England must apply for citizenship, but few are granted it and anyone found to be living here illegally is denied access to services such as education and health and liable for immediate arrest and confinement in a detention centre until they can be deported to a different country.

17-year-old Zara Ionescu is an illegal immigrant. Romanian by birth, she and her mother have lived in Britain for most of her life and desperately wants to go to university to study English.  They have been living in hiding with Zara’s former English teacher Max, waiting for the next general election in the hope that The Coalition will win and the signs are good – the Coalition are almost 20 points ahead in the polls.  All Zara has to do is lie low and avoid bringing attention to herself.

But two years ago Zara was at a party where 16 year-old Sophie Hammond died after taking an illegal synthetic drug and she has information that could lead police to the person who gave it to them.  Zara dare not go to the police because she’ll be deported but when she meets 18-year-old Ash, she knows that she needs to do something because Ash has a very special reason for needing to know the truth about Sophie …

Tracey Mathias’s stand-alone YA romantic thriller is set in a frighteningly plausible dystopian post-Brexit Britain where the country is an insular, quasi-racist state with rolling blackouts and traffic restrictions.  I enjoyed the developing relationship between Ash and Zara (especially how Mathias highlights their different experiences) but the mystery element lacks tension and the ending may leave some readers disappointed.

The main reason to read this book is that it has one of the best realised dystopian visions that I’ve read in a long time.  I found the portrayal of Britain and its people frighteningly plausible – especially the willingness of people to collude with a regime that uses jingoistic slogans because they believe that doing so is somehow patriotic.  Mathias inserts some great throw-away details in such as the effect of the blackouts, the problems of getting around the country, the use of ID cards and a rather sinister adaptation of the Neighbourhood Watch concept.  However the best scene for me is one where Ash and Zara go to a pub and Ash completely fails to notice all of the details that Zara is hyper alert to such as the British Born posters so that what is hostile to her seems completely normal to him.  What’s also good is how Mathias avoids many of the clichés in the YA dystopian genre and I thought that the ending was believable, even if I suspect that it will disappoint some people.

I thought that Zara and Ash were each interesting characters.  The reader’s sympathy obviously goes to the sensitive Zara, who’s living with a horrendous situation and all she wants to do is be able to live openly and go to university to study English Literature.  I did wish that there had been more scenes showing her relationship with her mother and Max but what there is are well done.  Similarly I wished there’d been a few more scenes to show the friendship between Zara and Sophie because where there is feels a little brief and while I could see what would draw Zara to the vivacious, artistic Sophie, I wasn’t completely sure what drew Sophie to Zara other than her illegal status.

In a similar vein, although I enjoyed Ash’s letters to Sophie (which he always destroys) there’s little sense of what their relationship was like before her death and I wanted to know more about that (although I think the effect of the death on the family is well drawn).  Mathias makes the reader believe in a hugely intelligent boy who has a very bright future ahead of him and who while not blind to the dark turn of the world has never really been forced to confront what is actually going on before.

The romance that plays out between Zara and Ash is okay.  I’m not much for romance generally so I didn’t get as much out of it as other readers will. I did believe in the relationship that develops between them though and Mathias does establish what they like about each other.  However the mystery that binds them together really doesn’t have a huge amount of tension to it especially as I guessed the reveal and that pay off (although believable) is a little weak.

Ultimately this is a very strong YA read and I would be surprised to see it on a number of 2018 award shortlists, notwithstanding that there were some elements that didn’t quite work for me.

NIGHT OF THE PARTY was released in the United Kingdom on 3rd May 2018.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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