Thursday 4 November 2010

Boys Don't Cry, Malorie Blackman

It must be fourteen or fifteen years ago I first read a Malorie Blackman book. Operation Gadgetman was the first, and Hacker and Thief. One contained all sorts of computing references (almost certainly Hacker) and "modems," which I had no idea what they were. This was a few years before the Internet could be routinely found in homes; our computer was the old Atari with a dot-matrix printer. We didn't even have the Internet in school.

A few years later, when I had moved into the young adult age group, I discovered Noughts and Crosses, a dystopia which was heartbreaking and brilliant, probably the first book I read which ends in a particular way for a main character - to say more would be spoilers galore. Noughts and Crosses found its way onto the shortlist for my A-Level English coursework for comparison with Nineteen Eighty-Four, but I didn't think teen fiction, no matter how good it was, would be considered by teachers. (I now suspect I might have been wrong.)

After three sequels in the world of Noughts and Crosses, Blackman returns to the recogniseable world to tell a powerful story about teenage single parenthood, and is unique in taking the viewpoint of a seventeen-year-old father whose ex-girlfriend shows up with a baby, informs him he is the father, pops out to the shops - and runs. I've read quite a few books about teenage single mums: Mary Hooper's Megan books and Dyan Sheldon's And Baby Makes Two are the ones that stick in my mind from my teen years. Blackman wrote Boys Don't Cry realising that the issue has been covered entirely one-sidedly, and that teenage fathers are just expected to do a runner. Blackman shows another side to the story. When Dante gets up one morning, he's expecting his A-Level results and an acceptance into university. Instead he finds himself the father of little Emma, and in just a few moments he has to rethink his entire life plan.

Boys Don't Cry is also about what it means to be a man, and we see this through Dante, his younger brother Adam and his father. Dante's mother died several years before and the family don't like to talk about their feelings. Adam is openly gay, but that is Not Something They Talk About. Dante feels enormous frustration that no matter what he does, it never seems to be enough for his father to show pride or love. Something terrible has to happen before the three will open up to each other.

In previous works by Blackman, there are a mixture of male and female narrators, and it is interesting to see a female writing from an exclusively male perspective: mostly Dante but with some chapters from Adam's point of view. She captures the boys' voices well, and reading Dante's story I found myself transported back to high school - he could quite easily have been one of my classmates. Adam is a slightly arrogant, obnoxious yet likeable younger brother, and the dynamics between them were of an entirely believable sibling relationship. In the later scenes, when the family start talking to each other about what's on their hearts, I did find myself wondering whether this was really how a family of men would interact or if it was a female writer shaping the world to how she thinks it ought to be.

Boys Don't Cry did not take me very long to read, but I know it will take a long time to forget. There seems to be quite a high teenage pregnancy rate on the Isle of Wight, where I live, and Blackman challenged my thoughts and prejudices about teen parents, and evoked sympathy and compassion. Boys might not cry, but this girl certainly did.

1 comment:

  1. i should track this one down.

    it sounds pretty awesome and i love your review. i read her book noughts and crosses ages ago and loved it (although have forgotten most of it, haha)

    good job with the review.


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