What do Room, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and Pigeon English have in common? Stephen Kelman joins an Adult Books for Young Adults tradition, using the voice of a young, naive character in peril to narrate terrible happenings that he doesn’t fully understand.
The setting for this book reminds me of another – Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faiza Guène (Mariner, 2006), which is narrated by an Algerian immigrant living in a Parisian project.
Huge hype surrounded the March publication of this title in the UK, and it was shortlisted for the 2011 Desmond Elliott Prize (for a first novel published in the UK).
There is a discussion guide available on the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website.
Adult/High School–This novel opens with 11-year-old Harrison describing the scene as a classmate is found stabbed to death. Harri and his friend Dean know how to be proper detectives from watching CSI, and possess just enough knowledge to get themselves in over their heads. As they attempt to solve the murder by collecting fingerprints, making suspect lists, and conducting surveillance, they are doing what boys do–playing pretend. It’s when they don’t realize exactly how close they’ve come to solving the crime that things escalate to a disturbing end. The strength of this debut novel lies in Harri’s voice. An immigrant from Ghana living in the projects of London with his mother and sister, Harri provides a running monologue punctuated with colloquialisms that lend a distinct cadence to his commentary. As a bright and curious boy, he maintains a sense of innocence even as the crudeness of his environment threatens to become dominant. Some vulgar and sexual language peppered in Harri’s retelling of events is quite jarring as he often misunderstands what he sees and hears, but readers recognize the serious implications. Early on it’s apparent that Harri’s monologue is directed at a pigeon that lives near his building. The device doesn’t quite work, particularly when the bird’s thoughts are expressed, but this is a minor distraction. Overall, teens will appreciate Harri’s winning narration, his child’s-eye view of adult situations, and the rising tension when playing detective becomes a high-stakes matter.–Priscille Dando, Robert E. Lee High School, Fairfax County, VA