Monday, September 19

Boys Don’t Cry – Malorie Blackman

Dante’s life is on track – provided he gets four good A levels he’s off to uni, a full year earlier than his mates, and ready for a life of freedom from his overbearing father and irritating younger brother, a future where he can earn money and have the holidays and treats his dad can’t afford. And though he pretends modesty to his family and friends, Dante knows the odds of him getting at least four A’s is good – he’s just waiting impatiently for the postie to confirm it.
The doorbell brings him a different kind of life-changing news, though. When Dante opens the door it’s to Melanie, a girl who used to go to his school, and to whom he drunkenly (and embarrassingly rapidly) lost his virginity to about a year and a half ago. Mel’s not alone, either – she’s lugging a bag, pushing a pram, and has a baby. Dante has no interest in babies , who squall and mewl and puke, and he’s at a loss to why Mel would suddenly reappear at all, let alone with someone’s kid.
Only it turns out to be his kid, who Mel’s been caring for at her aunt’s after her parents kicked her out. She needs Dante to look after it for a few minutes while she buys some things at the shops, and though reluctant in the extreme Dante agrees. But Mel never comes back, and she rings to say she’s not going to – she’s had enough and now it’s Dante’s turn.
Written in first person, with occasional diary extracts by Dante’s younger brother Adam, Boys Don’t Cry is a strong, compelling and beautifully crafted novel by the author of the Noughts and Crosses series, among others. It portrays with sensitivity and veracity a side of teen pregnancy not often acknowledged, and Dante’s transition from self-oriented, slightly immature teen to responsible adult is beautifully depicted.
There’s a significant secondary plot about Adam, whose sexual orientation is ignored and side-lined by Dante and their father until acknowledging it becomes unavoidable, and though a valid narrative arc in its own right also serves to reflect significant issues in the family dynamics – avoidance of discussing important issues, pretending unpalatable truths don’t exist, and an unspoken agreement to silence.
Blackman manages to fit in a number of significant teen issues in addition to these main aspects, including peer pressure, violence, the disinhibiting effects of alcohol, the complex nature of love, and depression.
Despite this sombre collection of themes Boys Don’t Cry is rewarding, uplifting and thoroughly enjoyable. I particularly liked the way the changes in Dante are reflected in his voice, most notably in his references to Emma, and the way he can see no other way of being, even as he changes. His resistance against his new reality and his efforts to maintain the life he expected to have are both poignant and amusing.
I’d forgotten quite how much I enjoy Blackman’s writing, and have also been reminded that there’s a fourth in the Noughts and Crosses ‘trilogy’ that needs to be read! – Alex

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