Burglar Boy by Jackie Martin
|Burglar Boy by Jackie Martin|
|Genre: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A positive and uplifting story of a boy with a good heart but in the worst of circumstances. Clear and accessible writing and a message of hope. Jackie Martin was kind enough to talk to Bookbag.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 170||Date: May 2011|
|Publisher: Nightingale Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Burglar Boy opens with a big scene - Dean is halfway though robbing a house when the owner returns. Chased by an irate man with a good aim and a golf club, he barely makes it out in one piece. But he dutifully returns home and divvies up a pile of ill-gotten goods to Callum, his older brother, who rewards him for the risk and the bruises with a paltry fiver. Still, it's more pocket money than Dean is likely to see from his mother, who has lapsed further and further into a bottle of vodka since her most recent boyfriend left.
Things aren't much better at school. Embarrassed by his worn and dirty clothes and his mother's non-appearance at parents' evenings, Dean avoids the place whenever possible. He feels small and mean next to Oliver, whose father spoils him rotten and who has the latest gadgets and designer clothes, and Elspeth, who tops the class in every subject. He knows they both look down on him. But deep down, Dean wants to do well and he wants to please Miss Durani, his strict but kindly teacher.
And then, one day, Dean meets Mary, an old lady disabled by MS. Helping her up from a fall is the first good deed Dean has done in months and he will find it repaid by Mary a hundred times over. But as Dean begins to see there is a better path to follow than robbing houses and bunking off school, his brother Callum goes further and further down another fork in the road. He starts working for a known drug dealer and gangster and even gets a gun. Will Mary's influence be strong enough to save Dean from following his brother?
I really enjoyed Burglar Boy. It's written in a clear and accessible way and events move at a smart pace. There's no chance of a more reluctant reader getting bored. Despite the fact that his home is more disastrous than most, Dean inhabits an immediately recognisable emotional landscape. He resents being ignored or neglected. He blooms when praised. He wants to succeed and his self esteem needs boosting. The things that upset him would upset every child. And the things that make him happy would also make every child happy. So it's easy to identify with him, even though he is a thief. And the book provides a good illustration of walking a mile in another person's shoes.
My only tiny nitpick comes with the dialogue and Dean's internal monologue. We know Dean comes from a challenging and impoverished background. Nobody will imagine him speaking with a plum in his mouth. So I found the dropped aitches and Gs written into the dialogue rather grating - they don't achieve grittiness; they make Dean sound like an American actor doing a fake Cockney accent. The boy would be better served by readers "hearing" his accent through the picture Martin paints of his life. But it's a small thing in an otherwise super read.
We need positive stories with messages of hope like this one. Our environments can drag us down but we all have choices. Thanks to a chance meeting with Mary, Dean began to make smart ones. And it made me smile to read about it. We all need a guardian angel.
Recommended for all tweens and even younger, enthusiastic primary school readers, Burglar Boy would also make a great classroom text for discussion.
Older readers will also enjoy Asboville by Danny Rhodes, tells the story of JB, a sixteen year old verging on delinquency. I think The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine will also appeal: it's a deeply humane and heartwarming story of mistakes and regrets and how to put them right.
Jackie Martin was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
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