By Author / Illustrator
Friends and family
Nosy Crow Ltd
Paperback / softback
Willow has always felt like an outsider at school, but she and her Nanna were so alike that she never felt alone. Now Nanna is gone and Willow is adrift. So when a group of girls offer her friendship in exchange for "fun" stealing dares, Willow can't say no. But as the dares escalate, she has to ask herself: How far will she go to fit in?
This wise, warm and uplifting story from the acclaimed author of Luna Rae is Not Alone explores what it feels like to lose yourself and the joy of discovering you're perfect just as you are.
"Why do we do it? To be more acceptable? I don't want to be acceptable. I want to be me." The After School Crime Club is an honest, intriguing tale of pre-teen angsts and grief. It tackles the complexities of friendship, fitting in and the need to be true to ourselves. Moral dilemmas and inner turmoils are woven through a page-turning plot with twists which send out the message that no-one should believe everything that they see and hear and that our true selves are the only ones that matter.
Willow is grieving for her much-loved Nanna. Through her grief, Willow feels a sense of loneliness, a sense of isolation and a growing realisation that she has nobody to fill the void that Nanna has left in her life. There are hints that Willow's Mum has issues with her mental health and that Mum doesn't always manage to hold things together. Nanna has always been reliable, stable, wise and true. But now Willow is alone and drifting on a sea of sadness. When Mum suggests that Willow joins the Book Box, an after-school revision club, Willow is convinced that her mum 'is directing a totally different movie' from the one that her only daughter is in.
Willow loves old movies, the ones with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire in them. She loves her baggy old sweatshirt with a cheeseburger motif on it. She loves cups of tea. Mum, it seems, wants Willow to be the perfect, school prospectus daughter and so Willow is taken, reluctantly, to the after school revision club. Once at the revision club, Willow finds herself amongst a n eclectic mix of other children of her own age. Some of the pupils are members of her own class who, Willow realises, have never spoken to her even though they have been together since reception Class. This causes Willow to question her identity, to reflect on her social isolation and, for the first time, to consider that she might want to be accepted and to 'fit in'.
The contrasts between how we are on the inside and how we want outsiders to see us is a strong theme which is so relevant to today's young people: Mum wants the world to think that she is coping; Willow wants her new friends to think that she is cool but wants to be the perfect child that she believes Mum desires; the 'cool kids' want the world to believe that they don't care what others think of them.
The need to be accepted is a theme that many readers will associate with and Hayley Webster approaches it with empathy and honesty. Willow's dilemmas are heart-felt and told with truth and realism. Willow is challenged to dares to prove that she is 'good enough' to be accepted within a gang. Never having experienced being part of a friendship group before, Willow is drawn in and begins to become a different, fake version of herself. Feeling sad and lonely, missing her Nanna and distanced from her mum, Willow is trying to fill the holes in her life and mistakenly believes that being part of the 'cool' kids will bring her the happiness that she is missing. As Willow starts to take risks, to steal and lie, her conscious gets the better of her. Nanna's voice guides her and Willow emerges stronger, better and happier - because she learned to believe in herself.
208 pages / Reviewed by Jo Clarke, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 9+