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Book Review: ‘The Young Team’ by Graeme Armstrong

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Imagine a Trainspotting where all the cast are Begbies, and instead of heroin, it’s bottles of Bucky and soapbar spliffs on the agenda. 

Disarmingly charming with his cheeky West Coast patter, Alan ‘Azzy’ Williams takes us on a tour of the ‘badlands’ of Lanarkshire’s housing schemes in Graeme Armstrong’s debut novel, The Young Team. 

The first thing that strikes me about Armstrong’s depiction of Scotland’s street culture is not the senseless violence. It is not the horror of the kids involved being fourteen and barely fifteen (what I was out and about getting up to at fifteen also fills me with horror at the; ‘I must be a real grown-up now’, age thirty-one). 

What strikes me is the strength and warmth of fraternal bonds within the Young Team gangs. It is the palpable pride of the youngsters after their first ‘battle’, when they are greeted with handshakes and slaps on the back from their ‘elders’, who are all under twenty themselves. 

The Young Team is based largely on Armstrong’s own experiences. Azzy’s involvement in gangs, drugs and casual violence reflect the author’s adolescence. Armstrong shows us the deprivation and desperation of parts of Scotland that most of us don’t even know exist. He also shows us the vitality and potential of the young people living there. 

His writing deftly balances a moving tale of self-actualisation and stark, distressing social realism with a raw and boisterous narrative. The influence of Irvine Welsh’s work is clear in the book and at one point he even addresses his predecessor directly, which I love. 

Graeme Armstrong is an alumnus of Stirling University. His gripping and inspiring first novel places him firmly in a lineage of great Scottish authors. With The Young Team, he breathes hope into a hopeless place.

Feature image credit: booksfromscotland.com

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