Sarah Mussi
"When society has fallen apart, it takes the power of stories to provide survivors with hope"
Breakdown – picture

When society has fallen apart, it takes the power of stories to provide survivors with hope

It is 2084. Nuclear radiation has poisoned the country. Society has fallen apart. Starvation is rampant, and power shortages have resulted in piles of obsolete gadgetry. Necessity has driven those who’ve survived to complete self-reliance, if they have the means to do so. For Melissa and her Nan, survival is just about possible, so long as they can guard the tiny crop of potatoes in their back garden and find enough fuel to cook on – and as long as they are safely barricaded inside their home by curfew.

For after dark, feral dogs hunt, and violent gangs from the old Olympic Stadium (now a miserable ghetto) roam to loot and plunder. If they catch you, they are not merciful; so when Melissa falls into the hands of Careem’s gang, her prospects look bleak. But Careem soon realises that she might just be more valuable alive, as a ransom victim. However, he hasn’t reckoned with Melissa’s resourcefulness. Soon part of his young gang are completely beguiled by Melissa and her story of a hidden valley in Scotland – a place that sounds like a comparative paradise, if they can get there. But apparently only Melissa knows the way, and only she can lead them there. But Melissa is hiding a secret. She has never been to Scotland in her life, let alone a mythically Elysian valley there. Can Melissa’s stories keep her alive long enough to escape – or will they get her killed?

Publication Date: Thu 2 Oct 2014
ISBN Paperback: 9781471401916
ISBN Ebook: 9781471401909



Sarah Mussi

Sarah was born in Cheltenham and raised in the Cotswolds, and received a BA from Winchester School of Art and an MA from the Royal College of Art. Sarah spent over fifteen years in West Africa as a teacher and now teaches English in Lewisham.

Sarah has written three previous books, has donated a story to an Amnesty International anthology, has given workshops for the SCBWI, and is the current Chair of the Children's Writers and Illustrators in South London society. THE DOOR OF NO RETURN won the Glen Dimplex New Writer's award for children's literature in 2007 and was shortlisted for the Branford Boase. Sarah is also the author of ANGEL DUST and SIEGE. Visit Sarah at and on Twitter: @sarahmussi


A wave of light and noise. Something says, 'Mon dieu.' Searing pain. Something is punching me. It hurts. I open my mouth. I spew out. Choking. Spitting. Something yanks me from that dim green hollow where I'm settling. My stomach hurts. I'm being punched. My stomach. My chest. Something is punching my chest. Hot lips are pressed on mine. Hard lips. They hurt me. They punch me. A hand drags me upright. 'Is she going to be OK?' A blow lands on my back. Hot hard lips pump into me. 'Quinny? Is she?' A child's voice. I try to see, but the pale green bower has turned black. I splutter. Jerk forward. Gasp. My whole front heaves. I'm choking. I'm gasping and it hurts. It hurts so much. I can't breathe. I swallow air. I swallow water. I can't breathe. I start to slip back down again towards that green haven. Nan is there, waiting . . . 'I don't know.' I hear another voice. 'Please let her be OK,' says the child. I don't know who he's asking. He's asking me. There's such an ache in his voice. It holds me. I see Nan's face fading. I feel a small hand in mine. 'Be OK, girl, please be OK.' He won't let me go. Against everything, I open my mouth and cough and retch and let the darkness in. 'Please.' He's calling me. It's so painful, I cry out. 'She's alive.' I hear the ring in his voice. It holds me there. 'Don't let Careem get her, Quinny.' I cough and gasp. 'Breathe,' says the voice. Another thump lands on my back. And I breathe. I open my chest and despite the cold and the pain I breathe and cough and breathe. 'Good. Now, listen.' A hand drags me into a sitting position. 'You don't have long.' I sit there coughing water and spitting it out. My throat raw. I open my eyes and try to focus. It's a boy - tall, broad shouldered, kind eyes, handsome. I stare at him. He's from the east. I can tell by his matted look and the weapons. I can tell by the tattoo across his forearm. Hastily he rolls his sleeves back down. But I've seen it. Bone Cross Bone. I must have been swept sheer past the Tower. I've fallen into the hands of a ganger.