The Scholar

The Scholar

I read The Scholar: A West Side Story after being lucky enough to hear Courttia Newland speak about his work at West Dean College in October. It came out in 1997, the year I finished University and moved to London, but this describes a very different London from my experience. Set on a housing estate in West London it shows the grim reality of growing up, striving to do the right thing when the system is designed against you doing so.

It follows the story of two Black teenage cousins – Sean and Cory. Sean is devoted to his girlfriend Sonia and is completely focused on studying hard to get the best grades he can to escape the life he seems destined for, of just existing on the estate. He is determined to keep his head down and to stay out of trouble. Cory couldn’t be more different. He is following a more typical path of petty crime and being occasionally sucked into violence to defend himself.

When Cory ends up in hospital, Sean steps in to save him by offering himself up to do a job that Cory is being threatened into. Sonia is horrified and Cory desperately tries to talk him out of it, but Sean has his mind made up and here the slippery slope begins. The descent is beautifully told, as the paths of the cousins become ever more entangled until everything comes horribly to a head.

This is the first novel that spawned a fantastic writing career and it is an excellent and gripping read.