Patrice Lawrence has won The Bookseller’s YA Book Prize 2017 for her “accomplished” and “page-turning” début novel, contemporary urban thriller Orangeboy (Hodder Children’s Books).
Lawrence beat competition from nine other authors - including Malorie Blackman, Francesca Simon and Alex Wheatle - to take the prize. She was given the £2,000 prize at a ceremony at the Hay Festival today, hosted by radio presenter and author Gemma Cairney.
Orangeboy tells the story of 16-year-old Marlon, who finds himself facing tough choices after a date ends in tragedy. Despite not wanting to follow his older brother Andre down the wrong path, Marlon gets caught up in London’s gang culture and things soon start to spiral out of control.
Author Melvin Burgess, one of the prize judges, said: “Orangeboy ticked so many boxes for so many of the judges. It’s a page-turning thriller. The characters and their relationships are truthful, delightful, surprising and strong. It was so refreshing to read something set in an urban black community that will appeal to a diverse UK readership. It deals with family, friendship, sex appeal, loyalty and generally being human. It is so accomplished and we all really feel there is something there for everyone.”
Lawrence (left) was born and brought up in an Italian-Trinidadian household in Sussex but now lives in east London. She has worked in the voluntary sector for more than 20 years and is currently a programme manager at writer development agency Spread the Word.
Lawrence revealed in a YA Book Prize Twitter chat that she began writing the book after being given a prompt on an Arvon crime writing course which inspired “a whole bag of thoughts and ideas about identity, agency, young people and music”. She also wanted to write a book that she felt her teenage daughter could relate to. It took her around five years to finish writing it, with “big gaps in between drafts”.
The prize was judged by nine book industry and media figures, including Burgess (who was last year awarded a YA Book Prize Special Achievement Award to mark 20 years since the publication of Junk), Hay Festival children’s director Julia Eccleshare, and Buzzfeed UK commissioning editor Chelsey Pippin, as well as four teenage pupils of Hereford Sixth Form College.
The book has also won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for Older Readers and was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award. Hodder Children’s Books will publish Lawrence’s second YA novel, Indigo Donut, pitched as “a life-affirming story about falling in love and everyone’s need to belong”, in July.
This year's #YA10.
The other shortlisted books, whittled down from more than 100 entries, were Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard (Macmillan Children’s Books), Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman and Riverkeep by Martin Stewart (both Penguin Random House Children’s), The Monstrous Child by Francesca Simon and The Graces by Laure Eve (both Faber Children’s), Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield (Egmont), How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss (Simon & Schuster Children’s), Crongton Knights by Alex Wheatle (Atom) and The Call by Peadar O’Guilin (David Fickling Books).
This is the first year that the prize has not gone to an Irish author. Last year’s winner was Sarah Crossan’s free verse novel about conjoined twins, One (Bloomsbury), while the inaugural prize, back in 2015, was awarded to Louise O’Neill for her feminist dystopia Only Ever Yours (Quercus Children’s).