Brooks follows up the success of The Bunker Diary (2015) with the American publication of this realistic YA novel set in London in 1976, when punk rock burst onto the British music and cultural arena. This was of particular interest to me as it’s about the defining era of my youth. However, it should be noted that I’m a middle-aged Brit, so I’m not the target audience!
Lili Garcia, narrating from the future, is asked by charismatic Curtis Ray to be the bass player in his band, Naked. As the band start gigging, they get deeper into the punk scene, and the author blends fiction with fact as they mix with seminal bands including the Sex Pistols and The Clash, and iconic figures like Malcolm McClaren.
At the same time, Lili and Curtis become a couple, though he seems more interested in drugs, alcohol, and hanging around with the really cool kids, and Lili seems pretty passive about this. But when William, a mysterious young Irish man with brilliant hazel eyes joins the band, the romantic tensions add to their music, while fracturing the relationships. An IRA sub-plot is rolled in here, though with little explanation of the Troubles.
The mostly upper middle class, mostly white characters represent only one side of the London punk scene, and the author does not seem particularly interested in the class or musical divisions that created this paradigm shifting culture.
The prose is pretty straightforward and unadorned, perhaps as befits a novel about a stripped down anyone-can-do-it music form and the plot moves forward in a linear and mostly unsurprising arc.
The author does touch on the alienated and alienating side of punk, which contemporary teen readers may be able to relate to. However, with its very specific milieu, Naked ‘76 will likely have limited appeal to American readers.