A boy is dying. He has been stabbed. He is lying, abandoned, in a pool of his own blood, knowing that his life is trickling away.
This is the arresting start to Dead Boy Talking. It’s a bold and brave premise for a book. Certainly it grabs the reader’s attention in a very shocking way. But the end looks inevitable. How can the writer maintain suspense and create surprise, and maintain a deep interest in the characters, in the face of such a grim beginning – a beginning that seems to go only in one direction?
All I can say is Linda Strachan pulls it off. The writing is powerful and visceral and does not dodge the bleak present.
"I start to laugh but my breath vanishes in an icy purple stripe of pain. I grab at the pain to make it stop and stare in disbelief at my hand, a thick, sticky glove of blood."Yet by going backwards, and delving into the story of how Josh has ended up where he has – a story which contains a tragic accident and a family mystery – Strachan cleverly creates suspense, surprise and a real desire to find out what happens next.
Furthermore, she adeptly handles – and gets into the heads of – a large cast of characters. Josh, his loyal friend Danny, his ex-best friend Ranj – and Skye, the nerdish girl-next-door: all of them are more than they seem, all have their own stories. The online friendship of Josh and Skye, based around gaming and messaging, seemed to me authentic and particularly moving.
Of course, as a reader you are hoping all the time that Josh will pull through. At the same time, you know a fairytale ending would feel like a cop-out. I won’t give away what happens, I will only say it is satisfying and contains an element of hope.
A gritty tale for teenagers, with a very human heart.
Emma Barnes is the writer of very un-gritty books for the 7-12 age-groups. Her latest book, How (Not) To Make Bad Children Good, concerns a naughty child who is sent a suprising and unexpected "Guardian Agent".
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