Like most good contemporary YA novels, at its heart Rebecca Denton’s The Punk Factor is about a teenage girl on the cusp of adulthood trying to figure out who she is. Unlike most lead characters, though, Frankie Taylor is figuring out what she wants loudly, forming an all-girl punk band with her best friends and crashing through the coming-of-age narrative in a whirl of chaos and bad choices.
Despite Frankie’s starting the band for all the wrong reasons, it’s not long before the band becomes something more for everyone in it, including an opportunity for Frankie to strike out on her own, and an escape for Frankie’s best friend Haruna. And, although Frankie is given the headline slot both in the book’s synopsis and as the predominant voice in the narrative itself, it’s clear that The Punk Factor is just as much about Haruna as it is Frankie – and that’s a good thing.
“I used to be all snobbish about music, but then I realised everyone’s just trying to do shit and putting yourself out there in any way at all should be applauded.”
On her own, particularly for at least the first half of the novel, Frankie is an unlikeable, rude and selfish character with a tendency to stretch the truth and ‘hustle’ those around her for her own gain. Without Haruna’s perspective to break up Frankie’s narrative and reflect on her brash behaviour with all the forgiveness of a friend who’s been witnessing it for years, this book could have easily become an exhausting, unrewarding read.
Thankfully, Haruna is there to balance Frankie out, and her story is just as compelling, if not more so. While Frankie rushes about bulldozing her way into situations with half a thought spared only for how her ex-boyfriend Doc will now see her, Haruna is left torn between being as conservative as possible at home so as not to anger her abusive step-father Greg and letting loose as her true, punk self with her friends and boyfriend Cheq. Frankie’s relationship with Haruna is one of the only times we see Frankie acting selflessly, and it’s in large part due to Haruna’s story that Frankie is able to redeem herself as a character.
Of course, it also helps that secondary love interest Jules calls Frankie out on her lies and yes, there is the usual boy drama in this novel. But The Punk Factor also deftly touches on much more than relationships including exploring a number of relevant issues, from the struggles of living on your own and familial expectations to taking an honest, frank approach to drugs, sex and alcohol, rather than pretending that these are things that people never get up to. Even so, it’s the friendship between Frankie and Haruna that ultimately gives this story its heart, and their journey is one that pays off wonderfully by the time you reach the closing chapters.
There’s no denying that The Punk Factor is a confident novel, stemming from a love of music and the music scene, even if its execution is a little flawed. The plot is enjoyable if a little predictable and Denton’s writing style is easy to get lost in, meaning you can easily get through the whole book in just a few hours. There’s some nice world-building too, with nods to other characters and stories in Denton’s This Beats Perfect series, which brings all three of the author’s books together with interconnecting characters, themes and links.
Despite an early unclear focus muddling readers’ expectations of this novel, The Punk Factor soon proves it has what it takes to hit all the right notes when it rejigs its priorities. What starts as a story about an initially unlikeable lead starting a band to get her ex-boyfriend’s attention turns into a much more satisfying read about friendship, growing up, and figuring out who you are and what you’re capable of achieving – all with an impressive punk soundtrack, naturally.
The Punk Factor is published by Atom on 8 November 2018