Lili Badger is a coming of age novel which follows the fortunes of a teenager struggling to find a place for herself in a society whose values have become twisted.
Lili is a tomboy, a dreamer and a lover of stories. When the novel opens she is nearing the end of her very practical Path at The Island Academy in East London, a Path that will lead to menial employment that will help keep the economy ticking over and Lili occupied and out of trouble. Artistic endeavours, and creativity in general, have been deemed an unnecessary luxury if not a dangerous distraction from the expected obedience of the working classes. But Lili wants something more.
Not content with being told how she should live her life, she seeks out inspiration wherever she can find it: from her Bengali grandmother with her folk tales from another world to a forbidden Shakespeare book hidden in The Academy library; from her younger brother Jay with his broken guitar to a gang spitting lyrics in the local park. The greatest inspiration, though, comes from a boy called Sam.
Sam is a friend of her older brother, Arun. He’s gorgous, and he’s not like anyone Lili has ever met: by day he works on a building site and by night he hangs out at the headquarters of the Underground Creativity Movement, a hub for those who reject the sidelining of creativity by the Authorities. He introduces Lili to poetry, and to love, and helps her find the person she wants to be.
Lili’s journey is peppered with discovery. As her story unfolds, she witnesses a darker side to the apparently benevolent Authorities, and becomes increasingly aware of the deep-rooted injustices their society is built on. She watches Arun fall between the gaps left in this society as he struggles to find his own direction, and her elderly neighbour wither away as a result of the very systems that are supposed to protect her.
But she also learns there is another way. The mysterious Guardians are as frustrated as Lili is herself, and spend their time propping open doors so Lili and others like her can pursue paths they never knew existed.
By the end of the novel, Lili has found the freedom to follow the path she wants to take, and the confidence to go it alone.
With echoes of 1984 and Never Let Me Go, this novel is a cautionary tale for our times, where growing inequality and the fractured society that accompanies it serves no-one except the privileged few. But Lili’s story is far from negative: her imagination lifts her above the every day, and it is impossible not to smile as she spreads her wings and flies.