It’s fiction. But for adoptive families and others involved in the lives of looked-after children, it resonates with chilling familiarity. The Children of Albion draws you into the bleak, mixed-up world of children who might be described as ‘on the edge of care’ – experiencing parental neglect, having frequent brushes with the law, pursued by educational welfare officers, and recruited into gangs. It’s not a relaxing read, but it is a gripping one.
About the book
Robbie Terry is 11 years old. His elder sister is barely speaking to him since their dad left, and his mum seems to come home with a different man every night (or as Robbie says, ‘the same *****, basically, with different tattoos’). None of these men like Robbie, and the feeling’s mutual.
Robbie’s Mum has depression, and we don’t see her sober at any point. She is simply unable to give Robbie the care he needs. They live in one of several blocks of flats all named after flowers – though there’s not a flower in sight – as though the names will make the place feel less depressing.
The book, written from Robbie’s perspective, reads like a cross between Only Fools and Horses, Oliver Twist, and a trainee social worker’s case study. For people who have adopted or fostered, Robbie has the sort of lifestyle you construct in your head when reading an older child’s child permanence report and trying to grasp the reality they’ve lived.
Squatting in a boarded-up house, frequent shoplifting, rescuing a friend from desperate prostitution, forging a tribe of others from their litter-strewn, concrete estate… it paints a grimly colourful picture of what like is like for Robbie and his friends who are being inadequately parented.
They all set up house together under the ‘guidance’ of Albie, a slightly older lad and Pied Piper figure who attracts and cares for the children, first one at a time and then in groups.
Agile and streetwise, Robbie helps Dean, the ‘king’ of the estate, and his gang as they rob warehouses, and then starts doing ‘deliveries’ for him, which in turn helps Robbie feed the growing household in the ‘flophouse’. But this set-up surely can’t end well…
Jill Turner, a journalist and editor of Adoption UK’s Adoption Today magazine, has brought Robbie’s world to life. That an 11-year-old would be in this situation might be a stretch of the imagination for some, but for adoptive parents the lifestyle Jill depicts is all too familiar, though no less hard-hitting for that.
I took a while to get inside Robbie’s head as I read, but once I had I was gripped as the story unfolded. He tries so hard to project an image of street-savvy capability but is clearly in need of a parental presence so he can just be an 11-year-old boy, not a pseudo-parent to other children. There is dark humour here, but also heartbreak in thinking of those for whom this is not only fiction.
I recommend this book, not only to the adoption community but to those connected to care-experienced children and their families. It will open the eyes of prospective adopters and their friends and families (though for sensitive readers, be warned that it contains lots of colourful vocabulary throughout).
I hope teachers read it, too, especially the ones who teach at leafy rural or suburban schools and would benefit from a better grasp of some pupils’ backgrounds.
In summary, this is a powerful read and one that will stay with you for a while after you finish it. I don’t think I’ll be alone in hoping for a sequel and a more hopeful future for Robbie.
Where to get your copy
The Children of Albion is available in print and Kindle versions from Amazon.