Laurence Roach is a 15-year-old boy with a plan: save his family, no matter what it takes. You’d think that trying to win a radio trivia contest with a grand prize of a luxury holiday might be enough, but unfortunately, things don’t quite work out the way Laurence plans.

Instead, one day his mother simply doesn’t come back from work. Saving himself and his little brother Jay from the long arms of social workers takes all of Laurence’s considerable talents. He employs everything from complex lies to investigative detection to, well, cross-dressing.

But if that’s what it takes to keep his family together, Laurence is not about to give up, even when things get really bad: “Jay’s moaning that he’s hungry. He wants some breakfast. But there isn’t any food left and we’ve run out of money again.”

Set in England and written by London author Dave Cousins (who began writing at age 10), 15 Days Without a Head manages to be gritty and heartbreakingly funny at the same time. The book examines serious issues of alcoholism, suicide, parenting, trust, honesty and responsibility, but never in a heavy-handed way. And even while Laurence is negotiating the complexities of the adult world, school and the authorities, he also makes tentative first steps in a relationship with a girl his own age named Mina.

By the end, teen readers will pull for Laurence, his mum and little Jay to win that top prize: making it as a family.

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