After realising that not only had about half of my reads so far in 2016 been rereads, but also that almost all of those rereads were by women whereas the new books by men, I decided to read something new written by a woman. It didn’t go entirely to plan, though, as when I reached the end of the book I was left with the feeling that I had read it before, so long ago that I couldn’t remember anything about it.
So, you know, I feel silly now. But, that said, it was only the faintest sense of deja vu — it’s entirely possible I haven’t read the book before, and merely think I have. These things happen.
The book in question was Feather Boy by Nicky Singer, which is about a boy who is frequently bullied at school. He volunteers to take part in a project with a local old people’s home, but his ‘elder’ (the resident to whom he’s assigned) lost her son, a boy of about his age. As he follows her directions to explore the house where the boy died, he learns about bravery, and also about grief.
Since Robert, the protagonist, is twelve years old, the book’s a little ‘young’ for me. That doesn’t mean it’s poorly written — on the contrary, the writing is evocative enough to creep me out in places and, while you’d expect a book published in 2002 to seem outdated, the kids still sound like people I knew at school, instead of cringey and out of date.
That said, in places the school — which I presumed was meant to be a secondary school, given Robert’s age — seemed more like a primary school and didn’t function in a way that I recognise from my school days. But hey, the past is a foreign country, right?
I think most of all, this book reminded me of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. It’s a novel about learning to understand grief and your own powerlessness, and how you can’t necessarily save people just by wanting to (no matter how hard you try). It’s also about nature representing these aspects of life — feathers, in this case, not a monster born of the landscape.
I don’t think it’s quite as powerful as A Monster Calls, but that might be because it doesn’t have pictures. Nevertheless, I finished the book with an emotion that can only be summed up as, “Oh.” That was about the most intelligent thought I could muster: it packs an emotional punch.
Robert also suffers from some compulsive behaviours that made me seriously reconsider my own. I’ve never thought of myself as having OCD, but his little rituals (shouting “I can see you!” into every room upon entering the house) remind me a lot of my own behaviour, as does his conviction that if he only finishes this particular project, if he stays focused on one thing, everything will be okay.
I’ve said that the book’s about grief, but it’s also about stories, and how they can take over your perception of the world if you’re not careful so that everything is a part of that particular narrative. I can definitely identify with that.
I thought Singer’s portrayal of the character — as well as those around him — was nuanced and relatable, and I got really invested in the characters and relationships.
And that’s about all there is to say about it, really. I know it’s a slightly odd thing to do, to review a book that came out ages ago when there are any number of more recent books I should be getting on with reading so that I can share my thoughts with you, but oh well — old books deserve love too!
I’m not sure how to rate it — for writing maybe three stars, for emotional punch maybe four. I think I’ll go for three, but at the same time, I do think this is a book that will stay with me because of its message.