Graeme Armstrong, The Young Team (Picador, 2021), pp. 400.
The Young Team, Graeme Armstrong’s first novel, is a powerful portrayal of adolescence, gang life, and survival. Published in 2020, the book has been widely acclaimed for its depiction of the challenges faced by young people caught in the cycle of poverty and violence.
The story is told through the eyes of Azzy Williams, a teenager facing the harsh reality of life in a North Lanarkshire’s housing scheme. The novel explores Azzy’s journey – his rise, fall, and ultimate redemption - as he grapples with the pressures of his environment, the allure of gang culture, and the search for identity in a community shaped by deindustrialisation and deprivation.
The novel is written the dialect of the Scottish working-class youth it seeks to portray and, whilst this may pose a bit of a challenge to readers, it adds to the novel’s authenticity and to its sense of time and place. In fact, it doesn’t take long to get into the rhythm of the language, which is sharp, funny and, at times, poetic.
The Young Team also contains some standout passages; for example, in its descriptions of the ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of rave culture. In terms of style, the book owes much to its famous predecessor, Trainspotting. However, it is more grounded in the life of the specific working-class community where Armstrong grew up.
The Young Team explores various themes, including masculinity, friendship, loyalty, and the impact of the - restricted and often self-defeating - choices made by the individual characters. It highlights the attractions of ‘gang culture’ in offering excitement, a shared identity, and a sense of belonging.
Ultimately, it gives the reader an insight into the complex lives of a group of young people who are far too often unthinkingly stigmatized as ‘neds’.
In conclusion, The Young Team is a thought-provoking novel that tackles the challenges of growing up in the face of adversity and shows how identification with a ‘gang’ can give a sense of purpose and belonging in a world in which these are otherwise in short supply.