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Needle by Patrice Lawrence

This powerful novella by Patrice Lawrence is published by Barrington Stoke in a dyslexia friendly format.

Charlene Yewless doesn’t say sorry. Ever. She is a young black girl who has been shifted around different foster homes and schools since her mum died, and banned from seeing her younger sister, Kandi.

Charlene loves Kandi. She also loves knitting. When her foster brother destroys a blanket she was making for Kandi, Charlene stabs him in the hand with a knitting needle and finds herself in a police cell.

Again and again we see the system stacked against Charlene, as adults look at her and see what they want to see. Teachers, social workers, a security guard, her sister’s dad, the police.

Only when adults start listening to Charlene is there a glimpse of hope. Her foster mother Annie and her lawyer Shelley, (who asks the police “Do they want to push another Black young person into the criminal justice system?”) both show that they will be there, although tell Charlene that she needs to learn to ‘play the game’.

Shelley also provides a different perspective for Charlene. When they first meet “She isn’t how I imagined. She’s Black and has got an afro. A short afro, but an afro. Shelley must think I’m rude because I’m staring. I always imagined that Black women got banned from doing important stuff unless they had hair that hung downwards.”

Lawrence’s skill in finding a character’s voice shines through. I could hear Charlene telling her story, and feel both her frustrations and the calmness that knitting brings her. Tension is simmering under the surface throughout, and the length and tightly written prose adds to the feeling of a coiled spring.

I loved the knitting scenes - I actually crochet, so any yarn talk is wonderful! The destruction of Kandi’s blanket was brutal and heartbreaking, symbolising as it did memories of the past together and hopes for the future.

In all, I loved this book. Any book by Patrice Lawrence is something special, and this can be added to the list.

- Vida


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