Writing on the wall

<strong>Graffiti My Soul</strong>

Niven Govinden <em>Canongate, 224pp, £10.99</em>

ISBN 184195

Niven Govinden is what breakfast television refers to as "gritty". In his second offering, Graffiti My Soul, he serves up happy-slapping, paedophile athletics instructors, "Paki bashers", hit and runs, teenage drinking, bulimic mothers and more, while remaining witty and compassionate.

Our misfit hero is Veerapen Prendrapen, "the only kosher Tamil in Surrey". Born half-Jew, half-Tamil, the 15-year-old athlete struggles to deal with being abandoned by his father and his mother's new relationship. The plot concerns the death of Veerapen's on-off girlfriend, Moon, around which Govinden painstakingly constructs a tragic picture of teenage frustration, trapped in the limbo of young-adult suburbia. Kids loiter in streets and malls, passing hours of boredom by happy-slapping strangers, drinking and fighting for superiority. "This is Surrey," we are told, where "nothing bad ever happens".

Govinden adopts brilliant street jargon that immediately communicates the 15-year-old mentality. Whether it is punking commuters or training with "Mr Paedo PE", the novel avoids stereotype or hyperbole. So if you like your poison prickly and pop-cultural, Graffiti My Soul will likely schizzle your nizzle.