Shortlisted for this year’s CILIP Carnegie Medal Shortlist, this coming-of-age novel, set in the summer of 1988, introduces us to Charlie Bell. He’s lost his dad, he doesn’t have the right trainers, and he’s full of the usual insecurities of adolescence. And yet he also has an excellent sense of humour and makes for a very engaging narrator of his own tale:
‘It was the summer
when Now and Laters
cost a nickel
and The Fantastic Four
When I met
and the Harlem Globetrotters.’
Alexander’s exuberant verse narrative style fits Charlie perfectly, allowing us inside the mind of this American teen in a way that is both intimate and pacy. The playfulness of the typesetting mirrors the dynamic metre of Charlie’s dialogues with his friends and works perfectly for the tense basketball scenes:
‘He just Swished
In your Face.
Stung you like
a can of mace
These boys so fly
they’re outta SPACE!’
The verse style freewheels around in an exhilarating fashion, but the use of ellipsis in dialogue is also incredibly effective, often proving a surprisingly moving way of showing what isn’t said aloud in Charlie’s conversations with his mum,
‘Be grateful for what you have, Charlie. Some kids don’t even have shoes to wear.
How were your tests?
Can I have some money for lunch?’
Despite the grief evident in Charlie’s thoughts, this is a heart-warming and optimistic novel. This is in large part due to the characters around him – the brilliant CJ, a friend who happens to be a girl, and who may become more than just a friend, his cousin Roxie, a vibrant and highly talented basketball player, and Charlie’s amusing grandparents, who take him in when he needs them most (even if he doesn’t realise it at the time). I also really liked the forays into graphic novel territory, picking up on Charlie’s love of comics. Dawud Anyabwile’s illustrations work well in capturing the would-be-a-hero fantasies of anyone who’s felt insecure in a social or sporting situation.
It’s a quick, absorbing read. I haven’t read anything with this much sheer energy before – It comes highly recommended by me, and by my students!