‘The Young Team’ by Graeme Armstrong
Azzy Williams is ready. Ready to smoke, pop pills, drink wine and ready to fight. But most of all, he’s ready to do anything for his friends, his gang, his young team.
Round here, in the schemes of the forgotten industrial heartland of Scotland, your mates, your young team – they’re everything.
Azzy Williams is fourteen; a rising star, this is his life and he loves it.
Azzy Williams is seventeen; he’s out of control.
Azzy Williams is twenty-one; he’d like to leave it all behind.
But a way out isn’t easy to find . . .
Inspired by the experiences of its author, Graeme Armstrong, ‘The Young Team’ is an energetic novel, full of the loyalty, laughs, mischief, boredom, violence and threat of life on these streets. It looks beyond the tabloid stereotypes to tell a powerful story about the realities of life for young people in Britain today.
I am not given to hyperbole when it comes to books. I try to take a balanced approach and judge a work by its own standards. A repeated pet peeve of mine is reviewers who criticise a book because it’s not the one they want written. “Well, put your crayon in your mitt and write the book you wanted to read then!”
Even so, this book has to be one of, if not the most, important novel for Scottish arts of the millennium thus far.
Graeme Armstrong has battered into the limelight of the literati with this debut like a Reebok Classic to the coupon.
This is a novel of profound pathos, tapping into the world of a class of people who don’t get heard, who’s voices are perennially misunderstood, marginalised and stigmatised.
But this is no poverty safari. There is an understanding here that people are people. That light and shade and good and bad are universals. That people can change and escape and grow but that these are choices and that personal responsibility is a factor. And an acknowledgement that society is stacked against these young people and hope is just a chimera if you can’t live beyond today.
I almost cheered when the Strathclyde Violence Reduction Unit and the folk hero that is John Carnochan got into the text (“You just need to give people a chance,” and the big man knows what he’s talking about.)
There’s a clear lineage between Irvine Welsh’s ‘Trainspotting’, Alan Bissett’s ‘Boyracers’ and ‘The Young Team’ but, for me, this novel surpasses both its forbears.
Yes: they are written in the dialect and vernacular of their surroundings; yes: they are populated with the pop culture references of their settings (although if, like me, you were training to be a teacher in 2006 and not heading to Fantasia, a lot of the Trance references fly over your head. I’m really quite old.)
However, what sets the Young Team ahead of those two is that – like one of those t-shirts you see with the evolutionary stages of man is that ‘Trainspotting’ is like a primordial swamp of black comedy and social realism ending in a swamp of despair. ‘Boyracers’ is lighter, more pop culture fixated and makes a case for education as freedom. ‘The Young Team’ does it all and leaves you longing for Azzy to make the right choices to meet his potential, to free himself for good.
Armstrong is more than a voice to watch. He is potential behemoth of the literary scene up here. A book which will sink into you and stay with you forever. It should be compulsory reading for all teenagers in Scotland.
Purchase Links: https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/graeme-armstrong/the-young-team/9781529017328 Where you’ll also find an extract
Graeme Armstrong is a Scottish writer from Airdrie. His teenage years were spent within North Lanarkshire’s gang culture. He was inspired to study English Literature following his reading of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting at just sixteen. Alongside overcoming his own struggles with drug addiction, alcohol abuse and violence, he defied expectation to read English as an undergraduate at the University of Stirling; where, after graduating with honours, he returned to study a Masters’ in Creative Writing.
His debut novel, The Young Team is inspired by his experiences.