Review Blog

Mar 09 2009

Hangman by Julia Jarman

cover image

Andersen Press 1999, reissued 2008.
(Ages 11+) Highly Recommended. Hangman is one of those novels that sucks you in, grabs you by the throat, gives you a good shaking, and leaves you weak, wrung out and hugely satisfied.
Danny is different - he understands Latin, is fascinated by History and bumbles along in his own world, oblivious to the rules of the playground and the necessity of fitting in. Asked to leave the safety of his private school because of poor academic results, he is dropped into Lindley High, a bog standard comprehensive with its fair share of bullies.
Toby knows how to fit in at Lindley High. He's good at football, has the right haircut and can stand up for himself. Danny and Toby know each other because their families are friends and Toby is filled with trepidation when his mum asks him to befriend Danny and help him settle into his new school. Toby knows exactly what will happen if he starts going around with a geek.
Jarman wracks up the tension as life at Lindley High becomes increasingly traumatic for Danny. The insidious nature of the bullying drips away, eroding his confidence and sense of identity. Characters spring to life. Nick, one of the main perpetrators is particularly well drawn and Jarman explores his motivations, so we do have some understanding and even sympathy towards his hatred of Danny. Toby vacillates between pity for Danny and frustration that he doesn't stand up for himself and fight back.
During a school trip to Normandy the bullying flies out of control as the steady build-up of nasty comments, name-calling and ostracising lead the power hungry Nick to force complete meltdown on poor Danny.
Jarman explores the issues of responsibility. When is it wrong to 'dob' someone in it? How far are parents responsible for the actions of their children? How do you extend the hand of friendship to someone 'different' without being ostracised yourself?
Danny witnesses two blackbirds attacking an albino blackbird. The children visit the Peace Museum at Caen where they see evidence of people persecuted during World War Two because they were different. Occasionally the similes may seem forced, but Jarman never preaches. The voices that come through are those of the children themselves as Jarman builds to a catastrophic denouement that kept me on the edge of my seat until the final page.
A powerful, fast moving, thought provoking read for both boys and girls, Hangman would make an excellent class reader for lower secondary students.
Claire Larson

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