By Author / Illustrator

Luke Palmer


Personal Growth

Age range(s)



Firefly Press Ltd




Paperback / softback




Four boys grow up together at school, itching to get out of their small town. They play games, scoring points from each other, anything to pass the time until they're free. Matthew slips into his imagination, Luc pushes his body to the limit, and Johnny ... well who knows what Johnny's up to. But when Mark starts running errands for his older brother's mysterious associate, he thinks he's found the best game of all.

Author Luke Palmer introduces Play, and reads from a short section




Play brilliantly captures the voices and stories of four very different teenage boys. Bored of their small town life and what little it seems to offer, the friends invent their own games to pass the time until they can get away, scoring points against each other. When one of them starts running errands for an associate of his older brother he thinks he's found the best game of all. Suddenly he has status, money, purpose… But when he breaks a rule and his life spirals down out of control, he realises that some games are more dangerous than others. This is no game, he's trapped deep in the county lines operation he's been groomed into joining, and his actions have serious consequences for others. Can he find a way out and, just as importantly, will his friends be there to help him?

This is, without a doubt, a difficult time to be a boy. The boys in this book: the artist, the athlete, the entrepreneur and the joker, brilliantly capture the mixed social messages around modern masculinity. There's more than one way to 'be a boy' and Palmer cleverly looks beyond the stereotypes, allowing all four to change and develop as their friendship grows, competing and measuring themselves against each other.

Palmer combines a teacher's insight and empathy for teenagers with a poet's way with words. These are realistic characters who leap off the page, telling their own stories through short, alternating chapters. These are characters you really care about as a reader; vulnerable, uncertain but often very funny too. They are resilient, understand the importance of play and connection, and are constantly there for each other in a harsh and complex world.

Tough to read in parts, timely and truthful, Play is a thought-provoking exploration of manipulation, masculinity and male friendship as well as family relationships and role models, sexuality, neglect and social expectations. The topical issues, authentic character voice and gritty reflection of reality make Play perfect for fans of Melvin Burgess, Brian Conaghan and Patrick Ness.

With county lines high on every school agenda, it is an important and insightful read for parents and educators as well as teenagers themselves. We need more books like it. It has the power to make the world a better place.

302 pages / Reviewed by Eileen Armstrong, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 14+


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