Review Blog

Dec 11 2012

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

cover image

Bloomsbury Childrens, 2012. ISBN 9781408828205.
(Age: Mature secondary - adult) Highly recommended. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and now embraced by young adult readers, Pigeon English pays homage to a young boy who author, Stephen Kelman, heard about on the London news. This boy was stabbed and killed. Kelman lived on a similar rough estate and has crafted an authentic, chilling story from a melange of his experiences and a fictional young protagonist. Eleven year old Harri is an exquisitely developed character - we discover his honorable yet boyish personality and background in expertly unfolded increments. He is an ingenue in spite of his tough environment. He loves and protects his family, takes God seriously, and his speech hints at his background.
Harri and his friend, Dean, act as detectives to find the dead boy's killer. They observe others on the estate through Harri's new binoculars, ask questions and take fingerprints with Sellotape. No one expects that the police will have any success in such a place. Life at school and on the estate provides rich, although often hard-to-stomach, verisimilitude. Young boys spit and mess around; older boys play much harder games. Harri likes beautiful Poppy and becomes her boyfriend. He is relieved he doesn't have to kiss her after practising with his older sister's hard-as-nails friend, Miquita, or burn her like Miquita's boyfriend does to her. He just has to be himself and make Poppy laugh to keep her happy. Moments of humour, as well as the joyful depiction of Harri, especially when he runs, keep much of the book hopeful.
The writing style expresses the grittiness, as well as the uplifting qualities of this novel. Parts in italics show a pigeon's 'bird's eye'perspective. Harri and the pigeon seem to share a bond. This element increases the value of the novel for close study in senior English classes. Pigeon English is one of the most unforgettable, although shocking, YA novels of the year.
Joy Lawn
Editor: The back cover states explicit content.

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