Desmond Hall on his evocative new YA thriller, Better Must Come

"The country of my youth is a time well lost."


Explosive and poignant, Better Must Come, the new YA thriller from Desmond Hall, is a gripping look at Jamaica through the lens of a teen “Barrel Girl” on the run from a gang desperate to get their hands on the missing drug money in her possession. To celebrate its release, we had the chance to ask Desmond a few questions all about this electrifying story, its inspirations and more.

Hi Desmond! It’s great to get to chat to you today to celebrate the release of your new YA novel, Better Must Come. For readers just hearing about the book, how would you best describe it to them?

I think BETTER MUST COME is an evocative, action-packed YA thriller that looks at the darker side of light-filled Jamaica and how tragedy and missing drug money helplessly entangle the lives of two teens who want to change their fate.

Deja is a “Barrel Girl” – one of the Jamaican kids who gets barrels (containers filled with clothes, food and other goods not available on island) from parents who’ve left them to go to the US and Canada to make more money. Gabriel is caught up in a gang and desperate for a way out. When he meets Deja at a party, he starts looking for a way into her life, and starts wondering if they could be part of each other’s futures.

Then one day, while out fishing, Deja spies a go-fast boat stalled out by some rocks and smeared with blood. On board, a badly wounded man thrusts a bag at her, begging her to deliver it to someone halfway across the island, and not to say a word. She binds his wounds, determined to send help, and make good on her promise…not realizing the bag is stuffed with half a million US dollars. Not realizing that the posse Gabriel is in will stop at nothing to get the bag. Or that Gabriel’s and her lives will intersect in a way they never could have imagined as they’re forced to make split-second decisions to save the lives of the ones they love.

Can you tell us a little about your inspirations behind the book?

The issues of abandonment, runaway crime rates, and just how far young people will go to save their families play a prominent role in motivating me to write BETTER MUST COME.

Deja, the protagonist in Better Must Come, is a described as being a “barrel girl”.  For readers who may not be familiar with the term, how would you explain its meaning and the way it impacts Deja’s life?

It’s a term that sociologists created for young people in the Caribbean whose parents leave them to go abroad to find jobs with livable wages. In most cases, the parents can make more money in a year working in the so called “first world” than they can working for ten years back on the island. And many of the parents send back barrels–containers filled with everything from cooking oil, rice, jeans, hair conditioner, cell phone covers or other things that are either too expensive to buy on island or simply aren’t available for purchase. It’s also fascinating to note that “barrel children” are often shamed by friends and acquaintances if they complain about not having their parents at home because they get “stuff” that others do not.

As a “barrel child” Deja, waiting on a barrel and money to pay the mortgage and school fees, finds out that her mother has been mugged. Then, with no barrel and no money, she finds an opportunity to help her mother and her family but acting upon it could mean her life and that of her siblings.

As well as being an action-packed thriller, Better Must Come is also a rather emotional read. I can imagine it must have been equally, if not more, emotional to write?

The country of my youth is a time well lost. I remember going to be bed at night with the windows and doors open to catch the night breeze. But now, Jamaica is periodically listed as a world leader in per capita murder or crime rate. And now those windows and doors I mentioned before are kept closed at night and have been grilled for security. Also, the nation is subject to periodic states of emergency, where the prime minister has called out the army to go door to door to look for gang members who are causing havoc in several parts of the island.

You so beautifully and vividly bought Jamaica to life on the page. What’s one view or fact about the island you’d love readers to take away from the book?

Thanks for saying that! Outside the walls of the plush resorts is a nation that’s been devastated by economic issues brought on by other countries and of its own making. It’s vital for non-Jamaicans to understand in some way, how a country whose dollar once had more buying power than the American green back, could slide into bitter circumstances.

Finally, are you currently working on anything new and if so, is there anything you can share with us?

I just finished a draft of a WW2 novel where a group of teenagers in Denmark rise up to battle the Nazi forces who’ve invaded the country. It’s a powerful story for our time with characters you have to root for and an ending that will stay with you for a long time!

Also, I’m working on a social justice style middle grade novel. It’s a time travel story where a brother and sister discover the true meaning of their power to alter the past when they venture back to the Tulsa Massacre.

Get your copy of Better Must Come by Desmond Hall here.

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