‘When Our Worlds Collided’ – Danielle Jawando

When Our Worlds Collided is a story that will rile you, dismay you but still leave you with the vague sense that there is hope.

The book began in a way that I found a little jarring, with our introduction to year 11 student Jackson who is out in Manchester on a date with the girl he’s fancied for ages. The dialogue between them felt a little unnatural on occasion, but you could put this down to awkwardness at the situation. There are occasional glimpses of a boy in a red puffa jacket, and we know this will be significant – and it isn’t long before we realise just how important. When Jackson and his date head outside they sense a shift in the mood – and then they become aware of chaos on the street. A boy has been stabbed.

While Jackson is worried about what he has seen – as a black teenager he is acutely conscious of how he is perceived – he feels compelled to try and offer assistance to the young girl doing her best to get help and stop the bleeding. The boy on the floor is the boy in the red puffa jacket. He is not known to Jackson, but 14 year old Shaq becomes a significant character for the three teenagers who stop to offer assistance.

We then follow the viewpoints of Jackson, Chantelle and Marc as they navigate their first real experience of something that they are aware of as a threat. Their reaction to Shaq’s stabbing was very believable, and I liked the fact that Jawando doesn’t shy away from some unpalatable truths about the media and how certain crimes are reported, or the evident upset felt by the two male characters.

From the moment Jackson – someone who offers assistance to a person in need – is checked out by the police because of his skin colour, it’s hard to ignore the underlying tension caused by racism. As a teacher I found myself riled up by the character of Mrs Edwards, and it made me desperately sad that in so many ways society is still determined to place unnecessary barriers in the way of others.

What happens to these three teens felt harsh, and this was more upsetting by the knowledge that this is the reality for so many people. Yet they find support from each other, and the lovely Eileen sticking with Marc when he’s not used to adults treating him with respect made me far more emotional than it should have.

While this made no difference to my enjoyment of the story, I found myself infuriated by the mistakes made in regards to grading in schools. On numerous occasions the students refer to getting grade 10s…there is no such thing! I also felt that once Jackson’s story develops it became rather lacking in credibility – perhaps if there’d been some link to Shaq’s story it might have felt credible, but everything felt rather rushed by the end – and included to make a point rather than as a realistic development of the story that had been started.

Nominated for the Yoto Carnegie 2023 Awards, I’m sensing a definite push with these nominations towards books that explore themes of identity and belonging and which have a clear focus on exploring social issues. This is certainly important, but I don’t want to lose sight of the value of just being able to recommend a book because it has a great plot or because it says something to you.