Friday, 20 April 2018

Rook, by Anthony McGowan

Nicky and Kenny live with their previously single father shift-worker dad and most of the time, his girlfriend Jenny. It seems that since Jenny's arrival, life has got easier in the household, with barren years of cold rooms, dirty clothes and beans on toast hopefully gone for good. Nicky, a year 11 pupil, is the narrator- a middle of the road kid of kid. Not popular, but not the absolute bottom of the pile. Money is tight, opportunities are few and he gets a lot of hassle about his younger brother, Kenny, who has a learning disability and goes to a special school.

Out walking their dog one day, Kenny and Nicky come across a half-dead Rook- the victim of a particularly powerful sparrowhawk. They take it home to nurse back to health, like they did with a badger one time. Kenny is relentlessly, tirelessly kind, and Nicky just wants him to be happy. The rook acts as a bit of a fable-narrative. A reminder that things can look desperate sometimes, and then they can seem hopeless entirely, but sometimes situations can be misread. Nicky learns, via the allegory of the rook, to have a bit more faith in the world.

I liked Nicky as a narrator, he seemed real and was very endearing. He has a bit of a tough time throughout the book- frustrated, wrongly blamed for something. He makes some bad choices, but it's easy to see how they might have seemed sensible or necessary at the time. He is angry, often very bottled-up and fiercely protective of his family. He's basically just your average, angry, mixed up  teen, languishing under the poverty line and left for collateral, trying to keep his head above water at home and at school.

The real strength of the novella is the relationship between Nicky and Kenny. Nicky is a very honest narrator, he talks about how he'd always imagined that Kenny only really ever existed in relation to him, like if he was out of sight, he ceased to exist. There's a refreshingness about somebody so candidly talking about something that the acknowledge was wrong of them. It's an interesting journey that Nicky goes on, in how he relates to the world around him. Kenny is a wonderful character. He's funny and stubborn and brilliant, and he loves Nicky to bits.

Reading this as accessible, low ability high interesting fiction, it is excellent. It's gritty and realistic, full of themes of injustice and poverty, and a good Coming of Age story about bullying and crushes and being a bit of a loser but resolving to be the best person you can be. Another cracker from Barrington Stoke.

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