Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for making this review copy available to me in return for an honest review.

Near to the beginning of this compelling Young Adult novel, Leo and his family move house and Leo has to negotiate a new school, with the usual quotient of jocks and bullies, and some potential friends. There’s a Girl, too, but he’s not sure how to handle himself around her. They are forced to move because Leo’s older brother, Caleb, who lives with autism as well as a range of other non-specified issues, has been causing trouble in the neighbourhood. Now that trouble seems to be centring on Leo, and his parents seem more concerned about scoring points off each other than protecting Leo from the regular beatings he’s experiencing or noticing that he has to literally flee the house on regular occasions.

It did bother me at first that the character with autism was portrayed as violent, however it’s reasonably clear that this violence is more a product of the family dynamics than it is his condition. He’s not understood or supported: the parents are shown as feeling helpless, and they are not the forceful and supportive campaigning types that my friends with children with spectrum disorders tend to be. The author and his character Leo are sensitive in portraying Caleb’s quirks and celebrating his unusual ways of being; and certainly the worth of a new friend is measured by how they handle his questioning. I loved the way his friends from his special class at school were also portrayed, with a range of issues but first and foremost individuals worthy of respect. Leo also extends that respect and support to anyone else a little different, making an enemy on his first day at school when he sees a school caretaker being bullied.

Leo finds an older brother substitute in Curtis, star of the cross-country running team he joins – and I loved the accurate and exciting descriptions of both cross-country and track training and racing (some reviewers have found these bits a little dull:  I found them beautifully accurate, showing the highs and lung-bursting lows so well). The love interest, Mary, is a great character in her own right and I liked Leo’s combination of an ability to ‘read’ Curtis’ moods because he’s studied his brother for so long and inability to deal with Mary’s different ways of interacting with him and, indeed, Caleb.

A sensitive novel and the inevitable crisis feels natural and not forced. It has an understanding of the autistic spectrum and running communities (from what I’ve read about the author, this is semi-autobiographical, so it will be interesting to see what he comes up with next: more running novels, please!). A good read that will stay with me.