- Flora Leask
New Brighton (2022): A Review
Image permissions from Helen Trevorrow and Red Dog Press
We are grateful to Red Dog Press for giving us the opportunity to review New Brighton and putting us in touch with Helen Trevorrow. Thank you to Helen herself for chatting to us. You can purchase the novel on Amazon and Waterstones .
“Brighton is like this; elegant Victorian facade giving way to dingy back alleys lit only by the reflection of a streetlamp in a puddle. So, naturally, the Astoria is a grand Victorian theatre turned jaded nightclub, reeking of beer, vibrating with bass, and dripping with red velvet.”
M. Sean Coleman, on the back cover of Helen Trevorrow’s bran-new novel, describes it as a mix between Blade Runner and The Handmaid’s Tale — but I disagree. Instead, I found that it was something entirely new and exciting on its own grounds. New Brighton (2022) is a science-fiction dystopia for young adults that isn’t afraid to be adventurous, gory, and subversive; visceral images made me writhe with discomfort, while its originality had me hooked from the first page.
The book feels like a science fiction love letter to Brighton, replete with famous landmarks such as the Astoria Theatre, Victorian facades, beaches, and a Pavilion. However, Trevorrow’s dystopian imagination takes the city and transforms it into a fast-paced sci-fi world, revolving around the discovery of Brighton’s uncertain future and mysterious past. The reader watches as the protagonist grows from an uncertain young woman to a powerful female action hero, with a bit of help from sci-fi elements along the way. Quantum computers and space exploration combine with the life of a waitress from Brighton to bring a deliciously intriguing weirdness to Trevorrow’s plot.
Readers unfamiliar with Brighton need not worry, as the city is only one element of New Brighton’s dynamic story. The number of plot-twists which dive-bomb the reader as unexpectedly as seagulls on a British beach mean that descriptions of the book’s plot must be limited; all that can be said is that it centres around Robyn Lockhart, a young woman who has spent her life in Brighton looking after her sister, Alice. When a mysterious shipwreck occurs on Brighton beach, Robyn’s life changes drastically. She sets out to discover what it is that everyone seems to know but her: how did this dystopian Brighton come about? Throughout the novel she realises her links to the foundations of the city, and just how important she is to the survival of her community.
Robyn’s path throughout the novel is intense and populated with violence, a nod to the disorienting nature of self-discovery. The way towards finding who you are — your passions, values, and true friends —is a difficult one, something Trevorrow leans into. Love and sex are not easy, and defining oneself in a world of restrictive conventions can be incredibly challenging for young people; the book affirms this through Robyn’s own experience of family expectations and her persons desires. In fact, the frankness of Robyn’s uncertainty about herself and her sexuality is refreshing to see, as is the diversity of the characters we meet along the way, with an emphasis on LGBTQ+ representation. Not only are there gay and trans characters in Trevorrow’s world, but they are three-dimensional people who are not characterised solely by their sexuality – they are important to the plot and play the parts of action heroes and love interests.
New Brighton’s exploration of love does not stop at the romantic but concerns familial love too — Mothers and daughters populate the book. Throughout it, Trevorrow expands on themes of nurture and nature: how do the people we have grown up around shape our perceptions of reality, and how do familial relationships change as we grow? Facades abound in Brighton, not only in the Victorian-style architecture, but also within families and relationships that at first appear normal. Through Robyn’s journey, Trevorrow questions the idea of the conventional family and its role in upholding systems of oppression.
Such questions are posed between daring escapades around Brighton, and beyond. At just about every turn there is a new obstacle for Robyn, as almost nothing in the book is how it first appears. Whether Robyn will ever get to the core of the city’s dark past is a question that the reader must find out for themselves and will enjoy doing so.
New Brighton is an engrossing, exciting, and empowering read, which I recommend to anyone passionate about Young Adult (YA) or dystopian fiction. Katniss Everdeen and Beatrice Prior have a new opponent when it comes to female action heroes: Robyn Lockhart has arrived and is here for British fans of YA who are looking for a dystopia closer to home.