Fancy a book with a pacey plot, razor-sharp writing and characters you’ll think about long after you’ve finished? The Truants by Kate Weinberg is the one for you. This debut novel is an easy read about friendship, love and loyalty.

Desperate to escape her large family and small-town roots, Jess Walker arrives at university and falls in with an electrifying group of friends who instantly “trail sunshine into her life”. She sloughs off her old suburban skin and begins to figure out who she wants to be.

Uniting the little gang from a distance is their enchanting, enigmatic English professor, Dr Lorna Clay. When Jess lays eyes on her first, she thinks: “Here she is at last. The person who will take me out of this small, airless world before the banality chokes me.”

Bonds are forged, hearts are broken, tragedy strikes. There is poison, betrayal, deception. Throughout the story, which trips along with pleasing speed, secrets abound and disappearance is a key and recurrent theme. (Weinberg says she has always been interested in “people doing vanishing acts in their own lives”.)

The Truants By Kate Weinberg

The book has drawn comparisons with those of Donna Tartt and Agatha Christie. There are certainly shades of both in The Truants, even if Weinberg hasn’t quite reached the dizzy heights of those authors yet. It manages to be at once a fresh and modern coming-of-age tale and, because of the eerie questions that hang in the air, an old-fashioned mystery novel.

Weinberg’s writing is a joy to behold. Each word is valuable and precise. She evokes moods and places with grace and skill. In just a couple of sentences, we are right there with Lorna on her wild island. Jess’s childhood home springs from the page like a painting. Until at last it is shattered, we absorb the gang’s heady carefree vibe – of sunshine, beer and fun – as though it were our own.

Most of her characters are beautifully drawn, too. You may not particularly like Lorna, with her kooky clothes and captivating ways, but you won’t forget her. Georgie, with all her privilege, scars and pills, makes the heart bleed. Alec, the intrepid South African journalist with his mind-blowing stories, is unnerving and enticing from start to finish. Jess is arguably a bit feeble – even allowing for her deliberate naiveté – and it’s a shame that we never quite get to grips with poor Nick, her beleaguered boyfriend.

Miranda Hart gets it bang on when she says: ‘The Truants teases, seduces and thrills but ultimately it’s about the best kind of love affair: allowing for the freedom to be yourself.’

This book is not perfect but it is clever, crisp and absorbing. Its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. Enjoy the company of its cast, luxuriate in its elegantly set scenes, unravel its artful knots – and you will find you learn things about yourself along the way.

Weinberg, who lives in London with her husband and children, studied English at Oxford and then Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. She dedicates the book to her father, who read to her ‘night after night’. If that is how you get your children to write first novels like this one, I’d better read to mine more.

The Truants is available to buy from

By Becky Ladenburg
February 2021

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