IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO CHANGE YOUR FUTURE WOULD YOU TAKE IT?
Esso is running out of time and into trouble. After he is accidentally caught up in a gang war, he is haunted by a vision of a bullet fired in an alleyway with devastating consequences.
A generation later, fifteen-year-old football prodigy Rhia is desperately searching for answers – and a catastrophic moment from the past holds the key to understanding the parents she never got to meet.
Whether on the roads of South London or in the mysterious Upper World, Esso and Rhia”s fates must collide.
And when they do, a race against the clock will become a race against time itself. . .
*This e-ARC was sent to me by Penguin Random House and Netgalley, please visit our disclaimer policy page for more information*
I read somewhere that Femi Fadugba wanted to create a story for the nerds and the mandem and thus, The Upper World was born.
I think it’s safe to say that he succeeded with this book.
I was very very scared going into this book. If there was a subject that I hated the most at school, it would be physics. I could never wrap my head around it. I was getting good grades in every other subject…but in physics? I was achieving straight U’s, E’s and D’s. I couldn’t get higher than a C until my parents got me a tutor. To this day, I still don’t really understand it.
I pretty much memorised what I needed to know for the exam and prayed that it would be enough.
I’m telling you it’s by the Grace of God that I managed to get an A in that subject.
I sort of went into this novel a bit blind. I saw it was about time travel and set in Peckham and decided to try it out. It only hit me after I was approved that this novel would probably have in-depth explanations about physic terms…
Femi Fadugba took two teens and somehow managed to draw on some difficult conversations within the Physics world to do with energy and light. He took one of the most confusing equations and made it easy to understand. Not only that, he drew on themes of racism, love, fear, betrayal and gang culture to do so!! It was phenomenally written and honestly, deserves so much praise for that alone
“Physics has this Godly power. It can explain the past, predict the future. It can give life. And it can snatch it away…”
The narrative is split into two. We have Esso, set in the past, a young Black boy from Benin and Rhia, a young black girl living in a foster home, set in the future. Both are very different characters but their lives are intertwined so chaotically that it drives the book along.
Okay firstly, we have to talk about the use of Black British slang. I personally really liked it because it made the book ten times more relatable to me. This is precisely what I love about books nowadays. When I say there’s a book out there for everyone – this is a prime example of what I mean! This book is quite niche but it is such a great read and one I think SO many people would enjoy.
It’s fast-paced and hard-hitting. There are diagrams and very simple explanations of physics terms I could never get my head around. Honestly, I needed Mr Fadugba as my Physics teacher at school because he taught me more about physics than my secondary school teacher ever could.
This reminded me of the TV show ‘Top Boy’ and the film, ‘Blue Story’ when depicting gang culture. It’s emotional hearing about young working-class boys of all races, neglected by the system so they turn to gang violence as the answer. I can’t speak much on this as I’m not an expert. However, I do believe Akala touches on this in Natives and even Femi Fadugba draws on certain issues surrounding gang culture in his book. He touches on how young black boys are quick to be punished by their education system. He also refers to this sense of family and the hopeless feeling of not being smart enough to make it out of a difficult situation. All of this and much more can be a reason why young boys feel they have no other choice but to turn to this lifestyle.
“Believing is seeing, Esso. Without belief, there’s no hope. And without hope, there’s just an alleyway full of teenagers who’ll soon be hashtags on hoodies…”
I personally don’t think social media helps. This fast consumer lifestyle that is perpetuated often leads to young people having a ‘hustle’ mindset. There’s not anything necessarily wrong with this. But, I’m so sure it leads to young people finding ways to get money or high-end products quickly and possibly not safely or legally.
Nevertheless, with Esso, we see the dangers and fears that come with gang culture. He also delves into betrayal. But what I loved the most about Esso’s chapters was the description of The Upper World. His explanations and reasonings are GOLD. Honestly, even the moments between him and Rhia set in the future were great!
Femi Fadugba managed to portray him beautifully! A young Black boy who discovers there’s so much more to the very fabric of time. Gosh it’s brilliant!
Then, Rhia…I actually loved her as a protagonist. She was headstrong but you could just tell she had an emotional side. The plot twists in her narrative kept me guessing throughout the book. I was constantly trying to link her back to Esso, and the connection that they could possibly have.
I felt like Femi Fadugba wrote the future so well! There weren’t parts that were so unbelievably difficult to understand or even technology that wouldn’t be possible. He had clearly thought about it very hard at the technological advancements seemed very natural.
I also adored how we learnt so much about physics with Rhia. When she made monumental discoveries, we did too. The reader is taken on such a journey with both characters into this discussion of time!
“We believed them. We knew no better, and so when they told us it was all true we believed them. Then it started to define us, started to become real…”
My only small problem was that I would have loved to see more scenes with The Upper World! Now, I do feel that Femi Fadugba probably chose not to because:
A) the book could have been twice as long if he did so
B) and he chose to focus on what would be beneficial to the overall plot (a praise-worthy skill)
Overall, I felt this was an astounding debut novel by Femi Fadugba and I CANNOT WAIT to see the movie adaption with the phenomenal, Daniel Kaluuya! This is Black British gold and I can’t wait to see what he writes next!
Although, I’d want to see more to do with The Upper World – 100%!
“Life is like a game of cards: the hand you’re dealt with is fate; the way you choose to play them is free will…”