15 Days Without a Head

15 Days Without a Head

3.5 2
by Dave Cousins

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Fifteen-year-old Laurence Roach just wants a normal life, but it’s far from easy with his little brother who acts like a dog and their depressed alcoholic mother. If Laurence can win the luxury vacation in a local radio contest, he’s certain his mum will finally be happy again. Then one night she doesn’t come home from work, and Laurence must face

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Fifteen-year-old Laurence Roach just wants a normal life, but it’s far from easy with his little brother who acts like a dog and their depressed alcoholic mother. If Laurence can win the luxury vacation in a local radio contest, he’s certain his mum will finally be happy again. Then one night she doesn’t come home from work, and Laurence must face the reality that she might not come back at all.

Terrified that child services will separate him from his brother, Laurence does whatever he can to keep their mother’s disappearance a secret. For two weeks, he spins a web of complicated lies to friends, neighbors, and the authorities—even dressing up in his mother’s clothes to convince everyone she’s still around. But Laurence can’t hide the truth forever. He begins a desperate search for her, and that’s when the real trouble starts in this powerful story about family, forgiveness, and hope.

“Incredible lightness of touch and humour, but also seriously weighty…reminded me a lot of Frank Cottrell Boyce.”—Anthony McGowan, author of The Knife that Killed Me

"A teenager holds his crumbling family life together in this finely crafted debut that strikes a delicate balance between humor and pathos."—Kirkus Reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Life’s not easy for 15-year-old Laurence Roach: his mother’s a barely-functioning alcoholic who works two jobs to scrape by; his six-year-old brother, Jay, acts like a dog; and Laurence is responsible for taking care of them both, which is exhausting. Laurence puts his hope in winning a lavish vacation by participating in a radio trivia contest, pretending to be his long-dead father. When Laurence’s mother doesn’t come home one day, he goes to desperate lengths to keep anyone from noticing that he and his brother are alone. But how long can he juggle responsibilities amid the lies and schemes? In his first novel (originally published in 2012 in the U.K.), British author Cousins offers a compelling story of Laurence’s struggles, with the darker subject matter balanced out by humorous undertones (such as Laurence’s ill-advised cross-dressing efforts at one point). There are no easy answers, only a sympathetic and painfully realistic look at how alcoholism affects families, set against Laurence’s semi-comical, semi-tragic escapades. Ages 12–up. Agent: Sarah Manson, Sarah Manson Literary Agency. (May)
VOYA - Diane Colson
Fifteen year-old Laurence's family is disintegrating before him. His dad is dead, his mother is holding down two jobs and drinking herself into oblivion, and his little brother, Jay, bites people. Laurence's redeeming scheme is to win a radio show that is offering a prize of an all-expense-paid vacation. This vacation would remove his family from the stresses of their lives and possibly bring his mum out of her alcoholic stupor. To do this, Laurence sneaks out every night and uses the pay phone to call the radio show. But it seems as though Laurence's intense efforts to keep his family intact are destined for failure when his mother goes out one night and does not return. Laurence has heard that cockroaches can live up to fifteen days without a head, and this precisely describes his frantic scramble to keep Jay healthy and evade social workers. While the subject matter of the book leans towards the tragic, Laurence's narrative is wryly funny. Jay's fixation on all things Scooby-Doo and the appearance of wonder girl, Mina, bring fresh energy into Laurence's life. Laurence's attempts to disguise his mother's absence is reminiscent of Sarah Dessen's Lock And Key (Viking, 2008/Voya February 2008), in which seventeen year-old Ruby attempts to hide the fact that she is living alone. Perhaps closer to the mark is Nobody Knows by Shelley Tanaka (Groundwood, 2012), which is based on the true story of twelve-year-old Akira, who cares for his three younger siblings in Tokyo. Reviewer: Diane Colson
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Laurence Roach is convinced that the solution to all of his problems lies with winning a luxury holiday getaway for his family from local radio show Baz's Bedtime Bonanza. What else is going to make Mum happy enough to stop drinking? Being 15, he can't win it outright, so he's been using his deceased dad's name. Night after night, Laurence is getting the trivia right and advancing through the game when all of a sudden his mother doesn't come home from work. It's up to Laurence to take care of himself and his little brother, figure out where Mum went, avoid nosy neighbors who will probably report them to child services, and keep coming up with the right answers for Baz's trivia questions. The story is attention-grabbing and heartstring-tugging, offering a truncated but important view into the life of a struggling family. However, the Roaches' story comes to a happy and tidy ending, following a very undramatic explanation of Mum's absence. An emotional read with too little payoff.—Emily Moore, Camden County Library System, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
A teenager holds his crumbling family life together in this finely crafted debut that strikes a delicate balance between humor and pathos. Most evenings, 15-year-old Laurence and his brother Jay tread lightly around the "force-field of cigarette smoke and booze, with our mum inside" that dominates their roach-infested flat. When his depressed, overworked mother disappears, Laurence protects 6-year-old Jay from his suspicion that she's not coming back. He knows better than to seek adult help, and for two weeks, living on toast, they manage to avoid their nosy next-door neighbor, Nelly. Laurence hopes that winning a radio trivia contest will solve their problems. With Jay at his side pretending to be Scooby-Doo, he pieces together clues to their mother's whereabouts. A growing sense of urgency permeates the book, effectively shown in a chapter-heading countdown from "Whensday" and "Blursday" to "Tattersday" and "Doomsday." This is countered by Laurence's delightful new friend, Mina, who sees through Laurence's often-hilarious actions. She gently cajoles him to tell her what's happening when he's ready, and with her steady presence, she helps him to see reasons not to give up on his mother. There are no quick fixes or easy answers in a novel in which it's a given that life together is better than life apart, no matter how dysfunctional that life is. Expect good things from this new voice in teen fiction. (Fiction. 12 & up)

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Llewellyn Worldwide, LTD.
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Meet the Author

Dave Cousins (Hertfordshire, England) began his writing career at age ten with an attempt to create a script for Fawlty Towers. His short story "The Floodlight Man" was broadcast on BBC Radio Five Live and read by Dave himself. Visit him online at DaveCousins.net.

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15 Days Without a Head 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
sandyemerson More than 1 year ago
15 Days Without a Head' is a poignant tale of the hope and despair of a brother who desperately searches for his mother who has gone missing, while protecting his brother at the same time. A story like this always tugs at the heartstrings because there's always that deep feeling of 'what if this happened to me when I was younger', or 'I went through something similar or am going through this now'. There's something really sad about a mother disappearing and leaving her children to survive as best they can with what they have. The plot of '15 Days Without a Head' is earthy and real. The setting was also interesting because this book was based in England. Usually, I read books where the setting is America, so this was a nice change. Laurence is the type of character that I admire. Instead of falling apart, he stays strong, desperately acting as the figurehead to try and keep his small family together. He does desperate, almost comically funny, things to keep it that way. His only ally in the madness his world has become is a girl he barely knows. I really enjoyed his interactions with the other characters. He just seemed so real to me.  The secondary characters gave '15 Days Without a Head' depth. They gave the story its light, fluffy moments. I didn't feel that there were any characters that had been placed in the story that were there for the sake of it. They all had important parts to play. The writing was good, but as much as I enjoyed it, it seemed kind of flat. I enjoyed the characters voice and some parts were comically funny while other parts were sad. The pace was slow and I must admit that I found myself drifting off in some places. All in all, I enjoyed the story, but I didn't love it. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes realistic fiction.   Book review written by Sandy at Magical Manuscripts
RaeLynn_Fry More than 1 year ago
Laurence isn’t your typical 15-year-old. He lives in a run-down, small apartment infested with roaches, a brother who thinks he’s a dog at times, and an alcoholic mother. But that changes when Laurence wakes up one morning to find that his mom didn’t return home from work the night before.  Determined not to let outsiders know what’s going on, and telling himself and his little brother that, “Mom will come back soon”, Laurence lives the most dangerous 15 days he’s ever known. No money, running out of food, and a nosey neighbor that would turn them into social workers are the stakes he’s playing against. But he’s convinced he has a couple of advantages. One being the late night radio contest he’s been sneaking out to enter. If he wins, he wins a family trip to any vacation spot they want. He knows this win will bring his mom back from her drunken stupor and make them a family again. At least, he hopes it will. At the very least, it will put her in a good mood. The second ace in his hand is a girl from school, who keeps his secret and helps keep him and his brother alive.  Although a gloomy and serious story, Cousins manages to fill the pages with bits of humor and lightness that equal out the trials Laurence is experiencing. A touching story about sticking together as a family, forgiveness, and learning to trust again, 15 Days Without a Head is a great read.  Rating: I’d give this a solid 4/5 and rate the content as PG for some mild language and drinking.