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The Silent Brother

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The Past Never Dies
When his beloved little brother is stolen away, five-year-old Tommy Farrier is left alone with his alcoholic mam, his violent step-dad and his guilt. Too young to understand what has really happened, Tommy is sure of only one thing. He is to blame.

Tommy tries to be good, to live-up to his brother’s increasingly hazy memory, but trapped in a world of shame and degradation he grows up with just two options; poverty or crime. And crime pays.

Or so he thinks.

A teenage drug-dealer for the vicious Burns gang, Tommy’s life is headed for disaster, until, in the place he least expects, Tommy sees a familiar face…

And then things get a whole lot worse.

Kindle Edition

Published June 16, 2022

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About the author

Simon Van der Velde

5 books18 followers
Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, laborer, teacher, caterer and lawyer, as well as traveling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters for his award-winning stories.

Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Prize, and The Harry Bowling Prize – establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.

Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, labradoodle and two tyrannical children.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 47 reviews
Profile Image for Zelda FeatzReviews.
334 reviews18 followers
June 20, 2022
I loved Backstories – Simon van der Velde’s first book – this author is creative and entertaining. So, when Simon reached out asking if I would read his second book I did not hesitate. The Silent Brother is completely different. While the story is riddled with references to music and events from the past, this book is a heartbreaking, raw look at the life of a young boy who has no one looking out for him. The author draws you into a work of alcohol, abuse and the life of a child with very few options available to him.
Simon van der Velde is a talented author that deserves a lot more attention. This book is deeply moving and has you feeling every rough edge on this fabulous young character. As you turn these pages you feel yourself transported to the streets of Newcastle while Tommy’s fears ooze off ease page. This book is beautifully written and full of emotion. I suggest keeping a tissue at hand.
Tommy and his little brother, Benjy, live in an abusive home. When Social Services step in and take little Benjy away, five-year-old Tommy is left to fend for himself while blaming himself for not saving Benjy. Carrying this guilt, he watches as booze steals the life from his once beautiful mother, and he ends up making some questionable decisions. When he meets Annie, he is finally given a reason to save himself, confront his past and find a way to move forward.
This book is heartbreaking. While I understand how easily people can end up losing themselves in a bottle when life gets hard, I still find myself infuriated when they drag their children down with them. It happens every day, and still, it leaves my blood boiling. I found myself angry with the boys’ mother for her lack of interest in her children. The author did a great job of stirring my emotions while reading this book.
How can you not love this little boy? Tommy never had a chance, no one was looking out for him. As a five-year-old, he was the one protecting his little brother. Even his grandmother did not do him any favours telling him how it was up to him to look after his mother and brother. He was a child! Putting that responsibility on his little shoulders was so unfair.
Tommy made some terrible choices, yet I understood each one, what else was this child supposed to do. I was angry with his mother and angry with social services and as for Daryl – well I think it would be best to keep my opinion of him to myself.
This book pushed all my buttons, I found myself being furious, and heartbroken while reading this book. The author managed to keep me glued to the pages, so yes, this title has been added to my loved list for 2022.
If you are looking for a book that will keep you flicking pages as you are dropped into an abusive household, a drug gang's operations and the mind of a young boy disparately seeking love – then this is the book for you. While reading The Silent Brother, it is hard to keep your emotions in check, I had to constantly remind myself this was fiction. By the time I reached the last page, I would have loved to spend 5 minutes alone with Tommy’s mother – I have a few things I would love to say to her!
Go ahead, add this one to your TBR – you will not be disappointed.
Profile Image for Olga Miret.
Author 51 books231 followers
May 3, 2022
I read and reviewed Simon Van der Velde’s book Backstories, which was a great success with many other members of Rosie’s Book Review Team as well; I expressed my interest in reading the second volume of that book (due in autumn 2022), and I ended up exchanging several messages with the author. He told me he had finished a novel and asked me if I’d be interested in reading it, although it was quite different from Backstories. When he told me what it was about, I could not resist, and I thank the author for providing me with an early ARC copy of The Silent Brother, which I freely chose to review.
The author, of course, was right. This novel is pretty different from Backstories, although it retains some of its best qualities and goes further still, building up the setting and, especially, the characters, creating fully-fledged individuals and a universe that merges realistic details with fictional but truly believable and understandable situations. One wouldn’t be surprised to read some of the episodes featured in the novel in a local (or national) newspaper, and, unfortunately, many will be quite familiar, especially to UK readers. (Not that similar stories don’t happen in other places, but one of the beauties of the novel is in the detail, and the author explains where the story comes from and how and why it was born, in his note Victims or Perpetrators? The Inspiration Behind The Silent Brother). I suspect that for many people in the West, the idea of poverty wouldn’t include their neighbours or people living just a few streets away from them, but there are many who are born into families with little to no resources and for whom “dysfunctional” is perhaps an understatement in our own countries and cities.
Tommy, the protagonist of the novel, is one of those people. Born into a family that is far from conventional (or happy), he lives a very traumatic event when he is very young, and he blames himself for what happened and feels guilty ever since. This is only the first of many traumas he manages to survive, but not unscathed, and it is easy to understand why and how he ends up becoming a criminal. There is never much of a reprieve for Tommy, though, and every time things seem to be going right for him, something happens and reality comes crashing down on him. But, one of the qualities that will endear him to most readers is that he never gives up. His decisions might get him (and others) into trouble quite often, but he is loyal to his friends (in his own way), and he is a better judge of character than he gives himself credit for.
The story is told in the first-person from Tommy’s point of view, and although he is not always the most reliable of narrators (Personally, I think he knows when to stop telling a story and when to edit out some things. He is clearly in control of the narrative), his pretty unique point of view and his inside knowledge serve the reader well, because he is insightful enough to pick up on clues and events that are important even before he knows why, and although he hides some things even from himself, he evolves and has learned to face the truth by the end of the novel.
I have talked about Tommy, and, as I have mentioned before, I think the characters are all very well written, recognisable, and memorable. There are truly bad baddies; some that fall in the grey area (most of the rest); some likeable but puzzling and ambiguous (sometimes, perhaps, because we see them through Tommy’s eyes, and his emotions and feelings toward them change); and some that we can’t help feel sorry for. Tommy sometimes annoyed me, but he also intrigued me, grabbed my attention, and wouldn’t let go, and I loved Annie from the very first. She is a wonderful character, despite (or perhaps because of) the terrible circumstances she finds herself in, and she is full of ambiguities, as real people are.
Beyond the social commentary (which makes the book well-worth a read already), particularly aimed at the changes many cities in the North of the UK went through in the final decades of the XX century (in this case, the Northeast, especially Newcastle and Sunderland), we have many themes that are explored in the novel: single parenthood, the underclasses, alcohol and drug abuse, abusive relationships including domestic violence, the role of social services, bullying, gang crime and violence, drug dealing, family relationships, regret, guilt, trauma, self-harm, PTSD, the self-expressive and healing power of art, different kinds of friendship, the nature of storytelling and narratives, and above all, this is a story about love: fraternal love, family love, and also romantic love, against all odds.
The writing is wonderful, though harsh at times, of course. The author has a talent for descriptions, and I don’t mean only physical descriptions —which he does well enough— but he can make us see a person, a place, and feel as if we were living a moment, by focusing on the small details: a noise, a touch, a gesture... He recreates the atmosphere of the city, the pubs, the clubs, the houses, the social services office... And he immerses us inside the head of the main character, getting us to share his thoughts and his experiences. It can be a pretty uncomfortable place to be in, but, somehow, you don’t want to leave until you’ve seen the whole thing through. The story is told (mostly) chronologically, although at times there are intrusive memories and thoughts that disrupt the character’s perspective, sending him (and us) back to particular events.
As you can imagine from the list of themes, the book is tough and pulls no punches. This isn’t a look at life through rose-tinted glasses, so people who find bad language, violence, and any (or all) of the topics mentioned upsetting, should be wary of the contents. Despite all that, though, this is a very hopeful book, and I loved the slightly bittersweet ending. I won’t give too many details, because I don’t want to spoil it for readers, and some things aren’t revealed until the very end and might come as a surprise, but let’s say that I was satisfied with the fate of most of the characters, and I hope most readers will be as well.
I recommend this novel to those who already know the author (I’m sure they’ll love it as well) and to those who don’t but appreciate realistic and hard-hitting stories, beautifully written, full of heart, with social consciousness, especially those set in the contemporary UK (particularly the North of England). It does not pull any punches, so people worried about certain types of content (violence, substance use, abuse...) should be warned, but otherwise, this is a novel whose characters will stay with the reader, and one that will make us look face some uncomfortable truths as well. The author has more novels coming out soon, so make sure not to miss any. I won’t.
Profile Image for Grace J Reviewerlady.
1,695 reviews63 followers
June 16, 2022
Prepare for a heartbreaking, unparalleled read which will tear your soul apart – and yet you’ll love it!!

Five year old Tommy Farrier lives with his alcoholic mam, her abusive boyfriend and his younger brother – adored by Tommy who does his very best to protect him from the awful life they have. When they take his brother away, Tommy doesn’t really understand why, but knows that it has to be his fault. He never forgets his sibling, spending the passing years dreaming of them being reunited but without any idea of how that could possibly come about. Reaching his teenage years, there are two opportunities open to Tommy: crime or poverty – and as crime pays there really isn’t a choice to make. As a drug dealer for a vicious gang, Tommy realises, too late, where his life is heading – and then things get so much worse . . .

Having read – and loved – Simon Van der Velde’s ‘Backstories’ I was keen to read this next novel – and, while so very different, it is another astonishingly good read. If your heart doesn’t break – just a bit – for young Tommy then I would check your pulse! This is writing which will put you inside a young boy’s head and make you understand life from the mind of a five year old and it is completely heart-wrenching. His bravery and coping mechanisms are just terrible to contemplate in one so young and yet he survives. Totally original, this is a real eye-opener for me as a reader who hasn’t encountered any of the issues involved. Written with great clarity and sensitivity, this is a real tribute to Simon’s considerable writing skills. I had no idea where it was going and, not being one for spoilers, all I will say is that the ending was everything I would have wanted. I was impressed by Backstories which was original and gripping and so very entertaining that I wasn’t sure how it would be followed but, trust me, The Silent Brother is an absolute triumph and has all the makings of a prize-winning novel; it is one which will stay with me for a long time to come. Immensely prestigious, very highly recommended and so very deserving of all five sparkling, glowing stars.
Profile Image for Whispering Stories.
2,601 reviews2,552 followers
August 11, 2022
In The Silent Brother Simon Van Der Velde tackles head on many of the issues which affect modern
society, particularly in towns and cities which have lost past industries without any clear
replacement. He has set his novel in Walker in the east of Newcastle which, after a successful history of coal mining and ship building, now finds itself with little to offer the working class.

The story starts in 1990 when Tommy’s younger brother is taken away from their drunken mother
and her abusive partner. The book is written in the first person from Tommy’s perspective so we get to witness first hand his fears and the pressures he gets from family and peers. He also tells us of his guilt that he could not prevent his brother being taken away and what he considered to be good fortune that he too was not taken.

Van Der Valde does not hold back in his descriptions of Tommy’s situation which I found depressing at times. At the end of the book and on his Amazon page he has written a passage giving his inspiration to write it. He also gives some personal opinions as to what and who is responsible for the situation of the real life “Tommys”.

There are some moments of warmth and affection but they are few and far between. Most of the
characters appeared stereotypical although I have not knowingly met any drug gang leaders to truly
comment. One character I could believe in was Tommy’s mother because sadly the press have
carried a number of stories about addicted women who tolerate violent partners who hurt and
abuse their children.

Somehow, despite the gloom, I found I was drawn on by The Silent Brother. My heart hoped that
somehow Tommy and Benjy will be reunited whilst my head was convinced it could never end well.
The storylines had some lively action passages and Tommy’s interactions with Annie were interesting.

Simon Van Der Velde was right to take on tough themes that I’m sure exist in many of our towns and I found it an acceptable read. I have awarded 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Louise Fein.
Author 3 books551 followers
June 25, 2022
The Silent Brother is a wonderful, realistic, tragic story so beautifully and sensitively told. At the heart of the novel is the question, can we ever escape who we are, and where we came from? This is a crime novel, set against the grimy background of deprivation and abuse, of drug dealers and gangs and alcoholism. Of the ineptitude of the care system and the lasting repercussions of children having to fend for themselves, who grow up without hope or expectation of anything other than a life of crime. But it is so much more than that besides. It questions our care system, our attitudes, our unfair expectations of those who start out life knowing nothing but the worst side of human nature. It is also a love story, and one which drips with humanity on every page. The reader must come to their own conclusion, but I found this ultimately a story full of hope and salvation. An important book which pulls no punches, but one which should be widely read and talked about. For me, my favourite books are those through which I learn about lives I have not personally experienced, or know little of. This is one of those books, and I know it will stay with me a long time. I look forward to reading more by this talented author.
Profile Image for Cathy Ryan.
1,149 reviews64 followers
July 26, 2022
Compelling and emotive, The Silent Brother is a gritty, dark, tense and raw look at life in Newcastle during an extremely troubled time for the city. Industry had lost its hold and business after business disappeared, leaving men and women jobless and without hope for the future. The younger generation had nothing to aim for except a life of crime and there are always those waiting in the wings to take advantage, with promises of large amounts of money to be made…a draw for the gullible as well as those destined for a life of crime. Once part of that life it’s hard to break free.

Tommy and Benjy Farrier lived with their mother, a woman on the slippery slope to alcoholism. Things went from bad to worse when the latest of her men, the mean spirited and abusive Daryl Boyle, came onto the scene, and before too long Tommy’s life begins the gradual downward spiral. He’s unable to rely on his mother, the only bright spot in his life is a skinny young girl called Annie who loved Cadbury’s Caramel.

The story is told exclusively and very realistically from Tommy’s point of view. He’s an unreliable narrator, not always entirely truthful with himself or anyone else, due in a large part to a traumatic event in his childhood which caused him enormous feelings of guilt and to brand himself a coward. Of course he wasn’t a coward, he was only a child, but it takes a long time for Tommy to accept that what happened wasn’t his fault.

The Silent Brother is hard hitting and emotional with believable scenarios. It’s not hard to imagine why Tommy is drawn into a life of crime given the lack of choices and the spectre of poverty, but despite the lack of nurturing, many setbacks, bad decisions, fear and violence, he doesn’t give up. So, in spite of the fine line he treads between offender and injured party, both of which are applicable, you can’t help but hope Tommy eventually treads the right path. A powerful and impressive read.
Profile Image for Susan Hampson.
1,522 reviews57 followers
June 16, 2022
I had the pleasure of reading Backstories by this author, which was highly entertaining, and I jumped at the chance to read his second book, The Silent Brother. The stories couldn’t have been more different. The Silent Brother is raw and heart-breaking as the two young boys are abused by the people that should be protecting them.

When social services take one of the boys away, it leaves the older of the two feeling guilty that he couldn’t stand up for his brother. As the years’ pass, Tommy has had to learn how to survive, even if that means being part of the wrong crowd. He meets Annie, and she becomes his mission to be saved.

The past is going to collide with the present day. I couldn’t help getting drawn in with these characters, as you feel so helpless that the choices that they make, just won’t be enough. Definitely a book that I needed tissues for while reading. This is such a talented author.
Profile Image for B.C. Harris.
Author 1 book12 followers
July 2, 2022
As an author of predominantly short stories, this is Van Der Velde’s first full length novel and I sincerely hope that it won’t be his last. The Silent Brother is a hard hitting, gritty drama of a tale centring around Tommy Farrier… or Boyle, because his step-dad makes it clear to Tommy at a very young age that this latter surname has been thrust upon him, his entire past, including his younger brother’s existence, has been eradicated.

Expressed through a first person narrative, and set among some of the grimmest streets to be found in the North East of England, this is a story of hardship, violence, alcohol abuse and domestic violence that evolves into a tale of drug dealing, control and the constant and vicious threat of any association with criminal gangs. Wee Tommy grows up on these streets, sent to the shops or the local pub for strong cider in cans for his car crash parents, his innocence quickly eroded by their combined lack of any responsibility. In this world alcohol serves adults as both an anaesthesia against the poverty, as well as a fuel for self-destruction. In this world children fend for themselves.

But Tommy is a lad with some substance between his ears. He chooses not to descend into the chaos that surrounds and slowly corrodes his Mam. As a boy she was once his beautiful, magical goddess, a single parent who danced and sang and filled his life with a kind of joy. But she chose her next partner badly and the price was high for them both. Despite having his greatest of dreams shattered as a teenager however, Tommy never surrenders his drive to change the direction of his own life, just as he never forgets the fraternity of his roots, and who he lost along the way.
It isn’t all grim up north though. There is love in Tommy’s life, and some good intentions that ease his pain. As a kid he meets Annie, with her questionable shopping skills and passion for a certain sweet treat, and they two form a powerful bond. Tommy also meets an observant adult on his juvenile travels; a woman who nurtures the tiny flicker of light held deep inside him, a little light that comes to shine very brightly as Tommy makes the transition into manhood and his ultimate bid for escape.

This is a realistic, often heart-breaking, sometimes heart-warming look into and beyond the privations and violence that mar far too many young lives in this United Kingdom. It is well written, with a few endearing characters to elevate your reader’s soul above the struggles afflicting Tommy. From his outset as a wide eyed five-year-old who believes in magic, to the courageous and talented twenty-three-year-old man he becomes, Tommy is steadfastly believable. A powerful and thought-provoking read, highly recommended. Five hundred stars.
Profile Image for Kayleigh.
210 reviews8 followers
June 17, 2022
What a read! Gritty, punchy, raw... so many adjectives I could use. Van der Velde really plunges you head first into Tommy's dark reality, rooting you in Newcastles underbelly.

There's a lot of dark stuff in this book, but also glimmers of hope and light. I enjoyed yet hated the recurring cast, and despaired at the route Tommy took, feeling so frustrated that he hadn't managed to escape that world.

The ending was perfect, and unexpected in a way as I thought it would follow the tone of the rest of the book. I was glad it didn't though.

Definitely one to pick up!
23 reviews1 follower
July 12, 2022
There's not much to say that hasn't been said in all the other glowing reviews for this book.

It was emotional, punchy, believable due to the research and fleshed out characters, but above all it took me on a journey that I was completely immersed in and I found myself racing through the chapters to find out what happened next in Tommy's messy and heartbreaking existence.

Quite simply one of the best books I have read and I strongly recommend to everyone (particularly if you like the darker side of the human experience and are ready for several figurative gut punches!)
Profile Image for Ingrid DJ.
56 reviews
August 2, 2022
The story is a rollercoaster. Tommy will be in your heart almost immediately and no matter what he gets himself into somehow you understand. You feel his love, his deep rooted pain, his longings and desires. Above all you feel his strength and his battle to overcome...and you understand why.
A beautiful written story, a book wellworth buying but I warn you, you will want to read it as fast as you can.
Well written Simon, your mission is accomplished. You have captured the life of the people who are living on the "wrong side of the track" in a most eloquent and respectful manner. Brilliant
Profile Image for Julie Rea.
1 review
April 11, 2022
Felt like I was right there

An utterly convincing depiction of life in Newcastle’s dark underbelly.
2 reviews
April 11, 2022
Heartbreaking. I had the pleasure of reading The Silent Brother pre-release and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
2 reviews
April 11, 2022

Tense, thrilling and emotionally true.

Do not let this pass you by.
Profile Image for Rhian Eleri.
324 reviews21 followers
July 31, 2022
Having read Backstories by Simon, I already knew that I'd get along with his writing.
Simon himself even pre warned me that this novel takes some nasty turns and for me to just be aware before delving in.

He wasn't wrong!
But it was all very well done.

This is a raw story of how a young boy is dragged up on the wrong side of town with the wrong type of people.
With some disturbing scenes that nobody would wish on their enemies, let alone a kid who's just trying to get by.

The novel pushes buttons, it explores a life that if taken the wrong direction, can be make or break.

With a way of writing that pulls you in, I'm very excited to see what else this author has in store.
Profile Image for Frankie.
803 reviews57 followers
June 16, 2022
I am lost for words…literally lost for words….(believe me this doesn’t happen often as I am an excessive talker) …. I am blown away by this hard-hitting and heartbreaking book!

I had the massive pleasure to read the author’s previous book; Backstories (which is so unique and very enjoyable) and then when Simon reached out about possibly reviewing an arc of this new and very different book I was instantly intrigued by the sound of it. And, goodness me I am mind blown!

I read somewhere (I can’t remember where, if it was social media or Goodreads) but it said that ‘you don’t read a Simon Van der Velde book, you experience it‘ and I absolutely agree with every word!! You live, breathe and walk in the shoes of his characters, you feel every single emotion, you feel their anguish, their fear, their brief moments of happiness and you close your eyes to the darkness and hope for light.

This tells the heartbreaking story of young Tommy, who has seen and experienced horrors in his life that no child should have. the opening sets up the story perfectly from those few pages alone you get a sense of what’s to come for Tommy. It’s not easy and at times it’s hard and painful to read, but you can’t stop reading it’s compelling and addictive.

Tommy is riddled with guilt throughout the book, as a child, he doesn’t understand why his brother was dragged away, taken from him. Leaving him, all because of him. The guilt of how his brother was found and taken is a constant companion for young Tommy, he feels as though he should have done more, it should have been him.

Tommy is a complex character, the story is told through his eyes which gives an incredibly realistic look into his world. We are with him every step of the way as he grows from a four-year little boy, the earlier parts of the story when he is a child are told with such innocence and naivety, which I found far more heartbreaking than when he is older and in the midst of the criminal activities surrounding him.

But don’t let all that think he’s a bad un’, he’s not, he’s just a kid who had the worst childhood imaginable. Poverty, abuse and daily torment and feeling unworthy, it’s not surprising that when faced with the choice of povety and crime he chose the latter. Deep down lies the heart of a kid who knows what he has found himself in is wrong, but as we soon see it’s easier to get in then it is to get out. He knows some of his decisions were wrong, but he was in a position where he didn’t particularly have a choice, but you can understand why he chose that path he trod.

That ending…..my goodness, it had me in tears, it’s incredibly moving especially after all Tommy went through during his hard and at times unpleasant life, It’s fitting for him and the story.

The Silent Brother is an amazing story, it’s not the easiest of reads by any means, it’s dark, tense, full of raw emotion and brutally honest. it shines a light on some of the shadowy worlds we know are there but refuse to really see. Despite the darkness and gloom, there is a sprinkling of hope that someday all will work out for the best and that Tommy will see his beloved brother again.

I could use terms like; stunning, amazing, wonderful, heartbreaking, fantastic and brilliant, this is all of those and much more, for someone who likes talking I just can’t find the right words for how amazing this book is.

It’s harrowing and incredibly engrossing, an absolute must-read!!
Profile Image for Jacqueline sharp.
803 reviews14 followers
June 16, 2022
This is a read not to be missed if you like a dark gritty read that delves into gangland crime, how someone gets sucked into that life, or because of upbringing, loss, drugs, alcohol. But this story is more than that it’s also a love story, can love conquer all, can you escape things in your past? Things you cannot change. I cried as I reached the end of this story because I’m sure somewhere this can happen through circumstances thrust on a young person trying to escape the trauma experienced at home. How do you escape a violent home? do you also become violent? or do you get drawn into dealing drugs in order to protect yourself and to make money,? but if you choose that life how do you escape it?

Tommy and Benji Farrier live with their mum in the North East of England, their lives are not what you would call happy. When the mother meets Daryl things get worse for the two boys, with both Daryl and the mother being alcoholics, add to that Daryl being abusive and a bully, life just keeps getting harder. Tommy is the eldest of the two boys, he tries to protect his young brother. But then a traumatic event leaves Tommy heartbroken, he blames himself. But this is just the start of his troubles.

It’s not long before Tommy enters the criminal world of drug dealing, it gives him a way out, it gives him money. He is not a ringleader, he just does as he is told. But each time it seems like something better is happening in his life, something else comes along bringing him down again. But Tommy is a fighter he battles on, never giving up. He is loyal to his friends which can sometimes lead to more trouble.

The whole story is told through first person narrative from Tommy‘s point of view. But how reliable is he? He is not always honest to himself let alone to the reader. But I feel for Tommy, you really want him to succeed in some way, to escape the underworld. He had met Annie when he was young, he had always had a thing for her but felt she had betrayed him at some stage. She is another victim that ends up with the wrong person with no idea how to escape. As the story progresses you wonder if the two will ever be able to be together. Will they have their happy ending? Or are they destined never to be together? Never to find happiness.

What does Tommy keep hidden in his basement that he wants no one to see? All the characters that are in the story are believable, relatable, some bad, some good, and some just caught in the in between, trapped, struggling to get out, because sometimes once you are in that kind of life it’s difficult to escape.

There are many things covered within the story, poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, drug dealing, guilt, self-harm, PTSD, but it is far from being depressing, you become so focused on Tommy and his life choices and you root for him to escape and to find love.

Despite some of the subject matters this is a very well written book, it keeps the reader engaged from start to finish, not knowing what was going to happen to Tommy or some of the other characters next. If you like a gritty read then I would highly recommend this. With an ending that you don’t see coming. This is a good ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ read. Definitely give it a go.
Profile Image for Danni (_forbookssake).
166 reviews19 followers
August 4, 2022
*Thank you to the author for my copy of the book, in exchange for an honest review*

I received a copy of The Silent Brother from Simon Van Der Velde, and was immediately excited to read it. I previously read his collection of short stories, Backstories, and it was absolutely fantastic, so I had very high expectations for this one and it didn’t let me down.

We dive in to the life of the main character, Tommy, from a very early age, where he witnesses and experiences horrific abuse at the hands of his step-father. It is hard hitting from the get go, but it was impossible to not read on. You’re instantly captured by Tommy’s story and it grips you so tightly that you could never possibly escape. The story continues through different eras of Tommy’s life, and it’s almost like you’re seeing him grow up with your own eyes. You see the challenges that he has to face along the way, and at every turn there seems to be a new villain surfacing in his story, with the old ones still lingering around too. Tommy is subjected to traumas that nobody should ever have to experience throughout his entire life, and the whole way through the book you are desperate for things to finally go his way and for him to find his happiness.

There are so many characters in this story, with a real mix of personalities. There were a few that I loved, and a lot that I hated but only because they were written so brilliantly as the villains of the story. Some of which I was desperate for karma to get them. It was interesting to see how Tommy navigated his way through these characters and their behaviours.

There was a really unexpected outcome at the end, that I really enjoyed, and I thought it was a great twist to the story. It showed a side of Tommy that despite feeling like you knew him after travelling through his life throughout the book, you would never have expected, and I really liked that about it.

This book was at times difficult to read, and extremely emotional, and it brought me to tears on more than one occasion. It is brutal, gut wrenching, and unapologetically dark, and that’s exactly why I loved it. I couldn’t put this book down! I feel that this is one of those books that no matter how much you write about it and praise it, you can never fully do it justice, and everyone should just read it for themselves.The writing is absolutely fantastic, but I always knew that it would be. Simon Van Der Velde is an incredible talent, and I can not wait to see what he has to offer in the future.

I give The Silent Brother a 5 star rating!
Profile Image for Terri (BooklyMatters).
478 reviews1 follower
June 17, 2022
A gritty and haunting look at the ravages of shame and abuse extending from childhood into the life-long decay of self and identity, this book is somewhat reminiscent of the also magnificent “Shuggie Bain”.

A graceful and compassionate triumph - a brilliant book that will hurt to read - this story cannot help but draw the reader into inescapable and heart-felt connections with characters so raw and authentic that their traumas will inevitably become your own.

Difficult to face in many places, this story pulls no punches, leading the reader into the darkest corners of poverty, alcoholism, abuse and despair - as encountered in the lives of a young family, situated in Newcastle, UK, in the grim and depressing sub-culture of the 1990’s.

Tommy Boyle, our first person POV narrator, who begins our story at the tender age of five years old, is already deep in the throes of more pain, fear and violence than most of us, thankfully, will accumulate in a lifetime.

Tommy’s life is beyond challenging, as he is torn between his inability to protect his younger brother (four-year-old Benjy); his adoration of his beautiful but tragically-addicted mother (she of the “soft black hair, shiny boots and long velvety coat”); and the uncontrollable hatred, fear and rage invoked by his vicious and terrifying stepfather, Daryl.

If you’re told it often enough, who will not believe they are broken, unable to love and be loved?

Where does one go, with a lifetime of accumulated hate and fear and grief and sorrow, except straight on a downhill spiral, following the “Devils footprints”, “through paths lit in raging scarlet”?

“You can’t escape where you come from. You can try, but you can’t escape who you are.“

Or can you?

As Tommy’s life unfolds, wildly and chaotically - leaving him emotionally, physically, and morally fractured - it’s impossible for the reader not to ache for him, his choices, and “all the things that might’ve been”.

Without giving the plot away (no spoilers here), it’s a rare book that passes my lump-in-the-throat test, not once, but several times - the end of this novel so delicately and skillfully easing open the proverbial floodgates, that this reader, left awash in emotion, could not help but feel awe at a story so deftly and satisfyingly resolved.

I loved this book, loved its challenging yet thoughtful look at the interplay of alcoholism, shame, violence and the maelstrom of damage left in its wake. Throughout it all, Tommy and those closest to him are characters constructed with such grace and compassion, that for this reader, our visit, as brief as it may be, cannot help but leave a lasting imprint.

A great big thank you to the author for an ARC of this brilliant and powerful book. All thoughts presented are my own.
Profile Image for Gordon Long.
Author 26 books33 followers
June 13, 2022
This is one of the most moving and emotional books I have reviewed recently. It is not often pleasant, it is rarely optimistic, and it is certainly not a fun read, but as a journal of the existence many of the less fortunate members of our society live through, it is unparalleled.

The “silent brother” in this story is not just a lost sibling. It is a metaphor for all the emotions and malformed ideas in an abuse victim’s head, which is where the whole story takes place. And when it comes to abuse, this tale has it all: child, sexual, emotional, physical and social. To give you an idea, the first part of the story involves the two young boys helping their mother’s abusive boyfriend hide them from the social workers. Tommy, the main character, has a strong sense of what is right, but it is warped by such experiences. Benjie is discovered and taken but Tommy is not, and everything goes downhill from there for a very long time.

Which is to explain the complexity of the main character’s thoughts. Although they start out as the maunderings of a four-year-old, he grows older throughout the story, and we get a clearer picture of his situation. However, confused by the stimulation of his terrible social landscape and wracked by survivor guilt, he finds it difficult to get his life straightened around the way he knows it should be.

The emotion the author uses to keep us immersed in this appalling situation is hope. No matter how bad things get, there is always the possibility that Tommy will come through in the end, and even the dream that he will still deserve whatever good luck he encounters.

Because there is a silver lining to the horrible storm that has encompassed his life; he escapes into his art. You don’t see much of it at first; his guilt causes him to keep it hidden, so it is disguised from the reader as well.

The other theme, the one that plays counterpoint to the horror, is the idea that the grand sum of an artist’s experience adds up to his personality and his talent. His upbringing and environment made him what he is for better and for worse, and if he can rescue his humanity from the damage, he can let his emotions soar with his art.

Once you have read this book, you no longer wonder how these broken people could reach those depths. You have seen it happen in front of your eyes, laid out in painful, painstaking detail. But you have also been given the key to the solution: love and art. And that makes the difficult reading worthwhile.

A deep insight in frightening detail into the mind of an abuse victim, and the redeeming power of love in any of its manifestations. Highly recommended for fans of fine, evocative writing,
Profile Image for Sarah Faichney.
745 reviews18 followers
June 16, 2022
"... you can't change where you're from, but you can change where you're going. And if you do, then you can change who you are." 

Having loved the concept (and execution) of the innovative 'Backstories', I was extremely keen to sample Simon Van Der Velde's first foray into the world of fiction. The book opens with first person narrative, immediately drawing the reader into the story. Who is talking to us and what do they have to say? Van Der Velde gives clever hints as to the narrator's situation and introduces a sense of foreboding. Something about the narrative strongly reminded me of Lisa McInerney's brilliant 'The Glorious Heresies'. My overall impression was of a Geordie 'Shuggie Bain'. 'The Silent Brother' certainly has the same award-winning potential. 

Van Der Velde artfully blurs the line between victim and perpetrator, forcing empathy from the reader. He handles the transition between young Tommy and his ageing self authentically, in terms of voice. The use of first person narrative works extremely well here and is absolutely the correct creative choice. 

I don't want to give anything away, in terms of spoilers, because I wasn't sure what to expect and I think that made for the best reading experience. I will say that I'll never look at a Cadbury's Caramel again without thinking of Tommy and Annie, and a wee Rumpelstiltskin in flowery shorts with chimney sweep hair. What an image! 

Themes in the book include domestic violence, alcoholism, poverty and deprivation, addiction, organised crime, survival, identity and brotherhood. Van Der Velde explores toxic masculinity particularly well, especially the casual use of extreme violence to assert status within a group dynamic.

'The Silent Brother' is a book about a wee boy's pain and how he learns to express it. 

"... we're surely all permitted to struggle for survival with the weapons of our choice." 

The story of which weapons Tommy chooses makes for a book which is in turns heartbreaking and inspired. It truly touched my soul. Simon Van Der Velde has played a blinder with this one. The last 10% of the book subverted all of my expectations and totally blew me away. I felt completely wrung out afterwards and had to sit and stare into space for a wee while! Bloody marvellous read! Cannot recommend highly enough and I can't wait to see what this author gets up to next. 
Profile Image for Jo Shaw.
377 reviews21 followers
June 26, 2022
When I first came across Simon Van der Velde it was with his collection of very clever short stories ‘Backstories‘, which I found so entertaining. The Silent Brother is his debut novel, and is a gritty tale of the life of a young boy with a difficult life growing up in the North East of England. It’s a tough read, but is also a beautiful story about resilience, love, family and redemption. I finished reading the book days ago and I still keep finding myself thinking about Tommy.

We see Tommy, the protagonist, from an early age through to adulthood. When we first meet Tommy aged 5 in 1990 he is protecting his younger brother Benjy with a sense of responsibility he feels that he needs to provide given issues with his alcoholic mother and abusive stepdad. The tough childhood he experiences as a child is not unexpected given that he lives in an incredibly impoverished area, with unreliable adults who leave him to raise himself. As a teen he falls into a life of crime, working for a drug dealer. Tommy gets sucked deeper and deeper into gangland Newcastle, and in spite of his redeeming qualities, it becomes harder to imagine that he might find his way out of the life of crime that he has chosen as his best option at survival. Throughout his life, thoughts of his brother Benjy are constantly in his mind, as he blames himself for the reason Benjy is no longer with him. The thought of Benjy ‘the silent brother’ who is there but also not there, is constantly present in Tommy’s life, guiding him.

On the face of it, you might feel it is hard to imagine being on the side of someone who is a drug dealer, a gang member willing to do whatever his boss tells him, but there is something so incredibly compelling about Tommy’s character, and I really found myself feeling heartbroken for him during his worst times, and ecstatic for him when things go well for him. It was a rollercoaster ride of a story and I found myself on that rollercoaster alongside Tommy.

The redemption Tommy finds as his story develops is breathtakingly beautiful, and in spite of the gritty story, and the jarringly unpleasant situations, this book is a stunning masterpiece and one of my absolute favourite reads this year.
Profile Image for Sally Cronin.
Author 21 books142 followers
June 18, 2022
There is an expression – ‘It if was not for his bad luck, he would have no luck at all’. That seems to sum up Tommy’s unforgiving and relentless passage through life.

Family is Tommy, his younger brother Benjy, and a mother who seeks comfort in a bottle, and in relationships that are addictive and dangerous; for herself and her children.

Like a row of dominoes one event sends Tommy’s life crashing. The only glimmer of light in his dark childhood is a scrap of a girl with a love of chocolate caramel.

There is no escape from the path Tommy finds himself on, guilt and a need to find his place in this uncertain world he inhabits, deliver blow after blow.

This book is set in Newcastle at a time when major industries, the lifeblood of the city, closed down leaving a generation of hard-working men and women without purpose. Lacking adequate support, the heart of a community dies, leaving the young with no future to work towards and a vacuum filled by those happy to take advantage. When criminal organisations are the only ones hiring… what is a lad to do?

This is not a cosy mystery but an edgy and gritty look at a life at the mercy of circumstances, poverty and criminal dominance. It is also compelling and filled with characters that are vividly drawn and whose every thought, word and deed ooze the menace that comes with ingrained hardship and deprived upbringings.

As a reader you are drawn into the turbulence of Tommy’s life. You absorb his desperation and also his passion for his brother and Annie whose life he becomes enmeshed in again as an adult.

Risks have to be taken, trust has to be given and a plan must be carried out to drag Tommy and Annie away from the precipice they are clinging to. Secrets long hidden offer a chance at a future and redemption.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. The author brings all the threads of this story to a close masterfully with revelations and hope. A reward not just for the characters, but for the reader who has become so engaged in their story.

I recommend this book to those who enjoy gritty novels about ordinary people who strive to fight their way out of difficult circumstances.
Profile Image for Els .
1,578 reviews28 followers
April 22, 2022
Often books fit into a genre. Sometimes though they don’t because they are a mixture. If I would  have to create a box to fit this one in, I would call it dark domestic meets gangland crime.

When, as a child, you are traumatized and victim of domestic violence, you only see one way out: get away as soon as you can even if you are barely old enough to survive on your own. As the author already states in his blurb, there are two solutions: you either live in poverty and turn into one of your parents (or both) or you seek the benefits of a life filled with crime. And crime can get you on the road to earning money, so I guess a lot of them will pick this path.

It will indeed help you with the money problem, but you become a prisoner too. A prisoner for life, until the boss says stop… When will that be though? Well, probably never as long as you deliver.

This really is a heart breaking story. I felt for Tommy, struggling with guilt and trying to handle it the best he could. At least that’s what he thought. Looking back, he probably picked the worst way.

I do admire him. He realizes he has to do something, but that’s easier said than done.

Will he turn his life around? Will he achieve his happily ever after or is he doomed?

An amazing story! It felt very real too. Great read. 5 stars 

Thank you, Simon Van der Velde 
Profile Image for Patricia.
626 reviews12 followers
April 15, 2022
If you liked Shuggie Bain. You will love this. Shuggie was fantastic, but The Silent Brother is Shuggie on steroids.

I had 12 books lined up to read before their publication date when I received an arc of this book. I made the mistake of reading the first chapter and got so intensely hooked that I ignored the others and continued reading The Silent Brother till I was done. God, this is good. You don't really read a Van Der Velde book, you experience it.

The characters, the storyline, the gut wrenching experience of your parents letting you down time after time. It all comes together in a way that will leave you begging for more of Simon's work.

Simon Van Der Velde
is the author of Backstories which I also highly recommend. His books are nothing short of masterpieces.
2 reviews
May 15, 2022
This intense, painful story is difficult to read but nonetheless unputdownable. A gritty realism drips off the page, sucking you into a violent, drug filled world populated with characters you’d cross the street to avoid in the daylight, never mind at night. The narrative draws us into a clearly identifiable North East England setting that is almost a key character in the story, creating a strong sense of community, albeit a criminal underworld, with its hangers-on, its perpetrators and victims. Vivid descriptions project you into the confused mind of the protagonist in scenes that stay with you, and there are some surprise developments along the way. A challenging but highly satisfying read.
Profile Image for Nicola Wood.
5 reviews
June 16, 2022
A stunning novel about a boy who has lost his true home – which is, wherever his little brother might be. Tommy Farrier's loss is heart breaking and his fight to find his way 'home' is nerve-wracking, intriguing and unpredictable.

People with awful lives often do awful things but all any of us ever really need is the security of knowing that we are truly loved. Ultimately Tommy finds his secure base but its a nail-biting journey. I was rooting for Tommy throughout.

The plot is superb, the characters are utterly convincing and the prose is heart-stopping at times. A novel this good looks at all the serious, big, complicated ideas beneath the surface of life and holds them up to the light.

Ultimately, love wins out and Tommy finds redemption in a completed unexpected ending.
Profile Image for David Savage.
188 reviews5 followers
June 15, 2022
A dark, intense gritty read that certainly doesn’t hold back and doesn’t go over the top – you could be reading a biography of someone’s life. An excellent well-written, deeply engaging read.

I received an ARC for review. Opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Amy Laidler.
318 reviews24 followers
June 30, 2022
In The Silent Brothers we follow Tommy a 5 year old with an abusive Step-Dad and an alcoholic Mum. When social services come everything changes, with them taking his little brother away. Rattled with guilt and pain we follow Tommy spiral from being beaten up to becoming a drug dealer. Silent Brothers follows his journey throughout the years. It's painful, emotional, and infuriating but we see glimmers of hope and healing. It's a book that makes you want all the best for Tommy.

I wasn't sure at first how I'd feel about the dialect with it being set all in Newcastle, but with my Dad being from there I felt like I understood and after a while it just felt normal.

Tommy as a character is someone you just can't help rooting for, but also at the same time want to shout at. He is certainly a character you just want to hug and love. I feel like if he had a better bringing up, his whole situation and his brothers would of been different.
I really enjoyed Annie's character, she had a big part in this story and I think she really was a good help for Tommy too. Her background was just as bad as Tommy's and I think it really opened these two up and solidified there friendship. I think Tommy really needed Annie and vice versa.

This book has a lot of deep and hard hitting topics which can be triggering for some, so do check them out beforehand. However I would say if you can, definitely read this book. It is done so sensitively, but raw at the same time. It really makes you think on why certain characters acted the way they did and it's certainly a chain reaction I think too. It makes you wonder if things happened differently, would these characters of changed. Or is just there nature and will never change.
I think the topics of both alcohol and substance abuse was done so well and it also raises awareness too. I felt this book as much as characters are fictional, the actual topics aren't and it's still something that happens right now. I also feel like this book opens up on how you can change your life and it really is down to you ultimately. For Tommy's character I felt like as he got older he started to find inner strength and realise I need to change this or I'm going to end up like my bringing up or worse dead.

Ultimately this book really shows the ugly side of life, but how you can overcome it and make things better for yourself. This book is one where it gives you hope and also teachings of life. It is a book that shares that it's only yourself who can choose the life you live no-one else. As Tommy quotes "Sure, you can’t change where you’re from, but you can change where you’re going. And if you do, then you can change who you are."

This is a really different book to Simons first work Backstories, which I absolutely loved. But Silent Brothers is such a raw take on life and done so well. It's fast paced and it makes you really think hard about things. I also think his characters are so well done, even if not all of them are nice. I really enjoyed this book, even if it is hard hitting. I just think it's one of those stories that stays with you for a very long time and makes you really think. I hear there will be another book from Silent Brothers and I'm really excited to see where that book takes us.
Simon to me is an author you need to watch out for. I have had the pleasure of getting to know him since the start and he is such a dedicated and kind man. His dedication is what makes his books so strong. I also think his work is not like any others, which makes it both unique and special. I am thankful once again to read more of his work and I can't wait to see Simon do more books and see his career be even more recognised. I honestly think everyone needs to read his books, he writes like no other author and I just love that.
Thank you again Simon for letting me read your work and for sharing about it all too.
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