Book Review: Sofa Surfer
Written by Malcolm Duffy
Published by Zephyr
Publication date: 6th February 2020
Summary (from Goodreads):
‘A story with great heart, and wisdom, which shows the healing power of true friendship’ Ele Fountain, author of Boy 87.
Written with humour and heart, Sofa Surfer looks at what it means to be homeless.
Malcolm Duffy’s debut novel Me Mam. Me Dad. Me., about domestic violence, won the YA category of the Sheffield Children’s Book Award 2019, the Redbridge Children’s Book Award 2019, was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Prize 2019 and selected for World Book Night.
15-year-old Tyler’s teenage angst turns to outright rebellion when his family leave London for a new life in Yorkshire. He’s angry with his parents about the upheaval and furious at losing his home. With only the dog to confide in, Tyler has no idea that a chance meeting with a skinny girl called Spider will lead him into a world he never even knew existed. Spider is sofa surfing and Tyler finds himself spinning a tangled web of lies in his efforts to help her escape her world of fear and insecurity.
Sofa Surfer shows how empathy and action can help those without a home to go to. As with his widely praised debut Me Mam. Me Dad. Me., Malcolm Duffy finds humour and heart even in dire situations. Relevant, warm and rewarding Sofa Surfer is about what happens when going home isn’t an option.
I stood on the street, breathing hard.
Couldn’t believe what had happened. What I’d heard. Spider was out there, somewhere, on the streets. I tried to imagine what that must be like, living outdoors, without a bed, a mattress, a laptop, a TV, a toilet. You get all those when you’re in a family. Like free gifts.
How would I cope if I was Spider? Probably badly. I swim in Ilkley Lido, so I’m not soft. But I like the heating on when it’s cold. And a fan when it’s hot. And I don’t enjoy wooden chairs for long. And I love a long, hot shower. To survive the streets you must have to be hard as nails. Spider’s had practice at it. But that’s not to say she’s got used to it. I saw the terror on her face when she talked to me about it. Not sure it’s something you could ever get used to.
First impressions: I am loving the recent trend for books showing a wider range of experiences, from poverty to homelessness, disability and complicated families. I was immediately interested in reading this because the ‘hidden homeless’ represent a much larger percentage of young people than many people realise.
The Big Issue estimated around 300, 000 ‘hidden homeless’ (i.e. staying in hostels or sleeping on sofas) to add to the official figures of around 4500 people on the streets.
The Homelessness Charity, DePaul helps around 4000 young homeless people a year and estimated that homelessness amongst young people increased by 28% from 2016 – 2017.
This is an eye-opening look at the hidden homelessness of people who are ‘sofa surfing’ because they have nowhere else to go.
Tyler is a typical 15-year old boy who is annoyed when his parents decide to relocate their entire family from London to Yorkshire, forcing him to leave behind all of his friends. Luckily, swimming is something he loves and he begins to spend time at the local lido. While there, he meets a girl who calls herself Spider and promises to pay him for swimming lessons, but there seems to be a lot more to her story.
Tyler is a realistic, flawed character who develops a lot over the course of the novel. Spider’s voice is equally unique, particularly as we gradually put the puzzle pieces together to figure out how she has ended up in such a tricky situation.
This book could be used to raise awareness of young people who are homeless, particularly the ‘hidden homelessness’ epidemic where young people are not on the streets, but equally, do not have a safe space.
Not many people on the moor. If Spider wanted to escape it would be the perfect spot. The bracken on the lower slopes was as thick as a jungle. You could disappear in there and never be found. But in a strange way I realised the people on the streets were already invisible. Nobody paying them any attention as they go about their lives. How many homeless people had I walked past without thinking about it? Hundreds? Thousands? And how many more had been like Spider? Hidden from view. In a home, but without a home.
What I liked: Realistic characters, Northern setting, panic-attack representation and pretty much everything else!
Even better if: Only if books like this weren’t needed. The UK government previously pledged to end homelessness by 2022, but that looks increasingly unlikely.
How you could use it in your classroom: This should be an essential part of any secondary library and could be an excellent book to start discussions about homelessness.
(Thank you to Zephyr Books for my review copy and inviting me to be part of the blog tour)
What did other people think?
Don’t miss the other stops on this blog tour:
About the Author
While you’re here, why not check out my reviews of The Burning, Romanov, Love, Hate and Other Filters, Summer Bird Blue, A Throne of Swans, The Twisted Tree, The Cruel Prince,The Gilded Wolves, Ascension, Invisible in a Bright Light or Gilded Cage?
Thanks for reading!