Crossing the Line

Crossing the Line

By Author / Illustrator

Tia Fisher


Social Issues

Age range(s)



Hot Key Books




Paperback / softback




'Do you feel safe?' A powerful novel exploring how teenagers can be swept up into county lines. For fans of PUNCHING THE AIR and SPLINTERS OF SUNSHINE.

Erik's life has been falling apart ever since his dad died. Homework and being good at school stop feeling important when you're the new man of the house. When Erik's bad behaviour attracts the wrong crowd, he's sucked into a terrifying new world of drug dealing, trap houses and violence.  Making money feels good but Erik soon learns that a small favour can become a huge debt.  And when his sisters' lives are threatened, Erik will have to cross one more line to save them.  Written in stunning verse, this is a poignant story about seeking safety and asking for help in times of crisis.



A question for you: do you want a book that will get everyone reading? Crossing the Line is that book. It's the story of Erik. Erik could be any teenage boy in your school. Since his dad died of Covid-19, his life hasn't been the same. At school, his red hair makes him an easy target for bullies; at home money is tight, especially since his mum's new partner gets her pregnant then abandons her with newborn twins. Soon, the problems at home affect Erik's school work.

Getting good grades and following the rules seem less important than stepping up to help his mum and twin sisters, so when his bullies, Travis and Ben, seem to be offering some easy money as well as a substitute 'family' it seems like a no-brainer… but it comes with a terrible cost attached.  Skiving school soon becomes shoplifting then drug-running, until Erik finds himself sucked into a terrifying underworld of dealing, trap houses, fake friends and brutal violence. With his own life threatened and his real family forced to flee their home, Erik has to find a way to save them all.

It's hard to explain just how good Crossing the Line is. Erik is a real, relatable, instantly engaging character who springs to life off the page; honest, well-intentioned, facing impossible choices and making bad decisions for the very best reasons. Fisher portrays him as a victim not a criminal. The reader clearly sees how cleverly he is being manipulated and it's hard not to feel real empathy and to care for him every bit as much as his best friend Ravi. Ravi sticks by him and, as well as providing the soundtrack to the story, facilitates the powerful, realistic, yet hopeful ending; an ending which highlights the importance of asking for help in a crisis and signposts where that help lies.

This is a gritty, gripping, highly readable book which will have real appeal for reluctant or resistant readers; an accessible story so skilfully written it takes no effort to read. Heartbreaking and gut wrenching, it races along at a fast and furious speed. The narrative verse format lends immediacy and pace, the poems almost running into one another like the domino effect of the decisions Erik makes.

The varied fonts and page layouts involve and engage the reader and the innovative use of concrete poems hold huge visual appeal and intrigue, skilfully highlighting Erik's inner thoughts and feelings. Every word of the text works to create maximum emotional impact - from the snappy poem titles directing the action to the cliffhanger and killer blows of the final lines of each poem.

This is a story based on real-life experience and is clearly written from the heart. Extensively and sensitively researched, it shines a light on the destruction and damage county lines cause to families and communities and highlights how easily teenagers can be drawn in. Checked for authenticity by The Children's Society, Crossing the Line contains a list of organisations to contact to get help and support. It has far more impact than any well-intentioned lesson plan ever could and deserves to be embedded into every upper KS3/4 PSHE curriculum, facilitating discussion of exploitation, coercion and addiction as well as county lines.

Crossing the Line pulls no punches but the strong language and violence is always authentic and appropriate. It would make a stunning tutor group read and includes a list of points for discussion. It's a book which should be shared with all school staff during safeguarding training and promoted widely to parents. It's a book that could make a real difference and could save a life.

County lines is also central to Patrice Lawrence's gripping thriller, Splinters of Sunshine. Other punchy and powerful verse novels centring on contemporary issues include Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam, Activist by Louisa Reid, Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds and Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann.

368 pages / Reviewed by Eileen Armstrong, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 14+


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