This is how it’s done, Zadie. Once Bad Intentions is a painfully realistic, beautifully composed, coming-of-age tale of a confused and unruly 12 year old girl who is struggling with life in a poor South London neighbourhood in the 1990’s. It is a story, simple in concept, with all the usual suspects implicated in her tussle: low quality parenting in part due to ultra-conservative traditional values incompatible with modern life, the desperate need for teenage children to gain respect at whatever cost from people who don’t warrant it and the sad, underlying search for long-term love in a social milieu where exploitation and gratification are the norm. Most of the problems she encounters are generic, a few Caribbean-specific. It is written largely in authentic and relevant local street slang (just a few vocabulary additions since the 1970s) with a lively contemporary musical backdrop at a time when female (both black and white) singers and groups were storming the airwaves, and during the heyday of MTV music video channel before it all but disappeared. The heroine is avid diarist Stephanie Johnson, a bright, sensitive but volatile girl with great potential who is easily sucked into local gang culture, principally because of issues with her mother and, by extension, the rest of her family and friends. It is not a tale of relentless, unthinking brutality, though, as for once we see some basically good young people – Stephanie, her siblings, compatriots, boyfriends – who have become trapped in a pointless vortex of violence and despair but who at heart wish to escape and make something worthwhile of their lives before they end up in prison or the cemetery. OBI is a familiar and well-trodden story of reluctant misdeeds carried out by a young individual who lacks only guidance, and their search for redemption. However, the characterisation is so truthful, and the problems so unpredictable or emotional, that it is hard not to get personally involved as the whole unhappy mess escalates, leaving you desperate to cry out advice and encouragement. I have read so many novels that purport to depict urban London life at its most raw but which rarely do so convincingly, and yet here the author manages the task with enviable ease where so many lauded professionals fail miserably. I don’t think that it’s just a case of a bitter individual recounting their miserable past in voyeuristic detail or cathartically emptying out their soul (if indeed that is the case) in fictional form, but is simply first rate, high quality, clear and honest writing at its very best. One of the finest of its type I’ve read for a long time but I hope it won’t be a ‘one-hit’ novel.
The `Dedication' to `Once Bad Intentions' states how destiny may be defined through an individual's own thoughts, actions and desires, and the overt aim is directly to young women growing up amidst violence and poverty. The aim is achieved by telling the story of Stephanie Johnson, a girl of Jamaican origin commencing in September 1993 on her first day at secondary school in Lewisham. It follows her tortuous life through to 2001 with Stephanie showing glimpses of regret as she matures. She confides in a diary in addition to describing experiences and events with her relations, friends and associates during horrific times as part of a broken family suffering misguided religious abuse and brutal beatings, plus predicaments from the ghetto of London council estates plagued by crime, drug-taking, bullying, savage behaviour etc. through to a visionary future. `Once Bad Intentions' is a disturbing book - not for the faint-hearted.
Narrative is initially difficult to follow as it is full of Jamaican patois and slang, but author Monique Dixon skilfully uses this to develop an authentic portrayal of the places and times, and it adds to the tension of her writing. If not a credibility gap - there is certainly a comprehension gap, especially for readers cocooned from urban deprivation and despair. It is difficult to take in the reality described by Monique Dixon, and perhaps there is too much emphasis on an obsession with designer gear plus casual attitudes to how this is obtained mainly via shop-lifting. With her dysfunctional upbringing, her disenfranchisement from society, and with her ferocious fighting, mugging etc. it appears Stephanie is immune to violence and beyond redemption - but the objective for `Once Bad Intentions', whatever early bad intentions there may be, is the option for Stephanie to be compelled to discover something else. However it is much more than a `coming of age' story - it is transformation from marginalised London gang culture to conforming member of humankind - but alongside the triumph there is tragedy. `Once Bad Intentions' is an eye-opener, and hopefully it can inspire challenges to identity and encourage moving on from whatever and however heinous the background.
The literary version of ‘Now That’s What I Call Music - 1995’ Vivid images and sounds delicately a precisely composed to bring back memories of growing up in London in the 90s. Throughout it reminded me of so much of my childhood and teen years, Reminded me of how trivial I once was Reminded me of how close I once felt to my friends, and how damaging some of those friendships could be. Reminded me of those that cared for me more than I cared to acknowledge Reminded me of the Grandparents, and the wisdom that age brings Reminded me of how some decisions cannot be undone A trip down memory lane, they just happen to be Stephanie’s memories, not mine. But there was something collective about those memories. With warmth and strength they jumped out of the pages and embraced me. Being a slow and dyslexic reader I expected this novel to take quite some time to read, but once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down again This story spoke to me on so many levels, and left me with so much more to think about. Awaiting a follow up for Monique Dixon - a very talented writer.
An entertaining read that brings laughter at points and disturbances at other times. ‘A once bad intention’ depicts the woes and struggles for many urbanites around the globe Is skilfully written in a way where the reader becomes a fly on the wall into the life of Stephanie through her diary entries. It’s not the best of starts for her, a childhood plagued with abuse misguidance and betrayal. We are invited to witness it all.... the violent action packed scenes, the turbulent family relationships, the close bond of her friendships, the dangers of her love interests and her attachment to the urban streets. Although Stephanie is no innocent party and has contributed and done many wrongs you can’t help but fall in love with her from her girlie love of fashion, to her honest and frank accounts with herself to her remorse I found myself rooting for her fight to change her life and improve it. We have front row seat as she strives to make peace with her past and step to a future decided by her, which makes for a very compelling read.
On the surface it would appear I have little in common with the main protagonist Stephanie Johnson, but as you get to know her and embrace her journey you get an affinity that is easily related to albeit not necessarily so dramatically.
I enjoyed getting an insight into the Afro/Jamaican family dynamics and culture, while appreciating the trials and tribulations that this brought to her being afflicted by her strict upbringing and rebellious nature.
Before reading Once Bad Intentions I had reservations about its subject: a young girl who's brought up amidst violence and then becomes violent, a criminal, joins a girl gang and becomes part of a world that seems common amongst a social class with dysfunctional parenting. Yes, the story covers some of the common experiences shared by a marginalised section of society, but I fell in love with the protagonist, Stephanie Johnson. Her journey was captured and written in such a captivating and at times, poetic, way.
Stephanie quickly becomes a lovable rouge. Her voice is honest, heartfelt and emphatic. The story is intriguing and precisely plotted. It has non-stop action, detailed violent scenes, brewing romance and elaborate diary excerpts that adds a bow to this story package. I thought the approach to addressing the themes around girl violence was a brave and honest account of real events that happens on a daily basis.
Music was also key to this plot. It featured heavily in most of the dramatic scenes, and because of this, really added value to the reading experience. The story is well written. I loved the way Monique highlights real family dynamics and young people will find the story a real page turner because they will be able to identify with it but see that today’s failure can breed tomorrow’s success.
This is a 'real' read. Stephanie will take you through many emotions that you actually 'feel' reading this book. You will want to shout at her, scream at her to 'fix up' but also understand the decisions she made, even if in hindsight, it was wrong, but more than likely celebrate her many positive choices. The author tells the true story without asking for sympathy, but leads you through that difficult period of her life. I feel that I know Stephanie, I know her friends, I know her teacher and I know someone like her mother. This is an excellent read through the eyes of the young person going through it, not the social worker or teacher but the young person and her diary. A real story of Triumph and Redemption.
Monique I am now waiting for what happens to Stephanie as an adult!!!!!
Very powerful story with wonderful insights on how life can be for a young woman of colour (applicable anywhere in the world) topics ranging from family dysfunction, faith in oneself to matters of the heart. I personally have had some of the same thoughts as Stephanie and the author was able to put them into words in an very honest way. Highly recommended