Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: Boys Don't Cry by Malorie Blackman

I don't know what it is about Malorie Blackman's books, but they just have the weirdest timing.

As some of you might remember, her "Naughts and Crosses" series got a lot of limelight when another reverse racism book started making its rounds on the interwebs (yes, I'm talking about "Revealing Eden", thus ensuring that there isn't a single person on the former GR community that hasn't mentioned it.) 

Blackman is also, deservedly, the Waterstones' Children's Laureate for 2013-2015. I really hope this brings even more of her books to the light, because if they're all like this one, we're in for a huge treat.

And I have a feeling that "Boys Don't Cry" will definitely be making a comeback, or at least a splash.

Dante is our hero, and he and his family have been living pretty unhappy lives since the death of his mother. He, his father and his brother have been scraping by, and Dante has always been telling himself he'd go to university and live a better life. Things take an unexpected turn when an ex-girlfriend shows up on his doorstep with a baby. His baby. And then she does the "going for cigarettes" too. From then on, Dante's world is completely thrown off-kilter as he's forced to look after a baby.

Malorie Blackman definitely breaks new ground with this. Usually, if a YA book tackles teenage pregnancy, it's always the girls' points of view that are being explored. Rarely is the father center stage of the story, which I think is pretty unfortunate, as it is a pretty widespread fallacy that fathers don't have a big part in the raising of their children. (Wrong. So, so wrong.)

Another fallacy, at least in British society, is that young people are lazy layabouts who'd rather leech off the state than get a job or go into uni. Just a few weeks ago, the current Prime Minister announced his plans to take away all youth benefits, should he be reelected in 2015 - which is wrong on so many levels I can't even! - but the relevant thing is that he's getting a lot of support over it.

Why? The same reason why any populist measure ever taken, I guess.

I'd be pretty sad to see this happen - not least because, if someone picks this book up, they wouldn't know what "Job-seeker's Allowance" is and why is Dante so pissed about applying for one. (Early in the book, there is a scene where an older woman gives Dante Hell for being a teenage dad, and rants about how scum like him are the reasons she pays high taxes, or something like that. Dante gets angry that she automatically makes assumptions, but to be honest, even if she wasn't, approaching total strangers and attacking them over a personal decision would still not be okay.)

Dante's story is a scenario which, baby notwithstanding, is pretty common in GB - a young person has the drive and determination and desire to succeed, but is hampered by external circumstances. He's not the only one either. His brother Adam is also on the  receiving end of a lot of hate, over his sexual orientation.

Actually, even if teenage fatherhood isn't your cup of tea, this book is worth reading because of Adam's story. When I first started reading, I thought I had another case of "wise gay" character, in which a teen overcomes adversary with a smile on his face and serves as inspiration to others... yeah, no, that doesn't happen here. Adam does smile a lot, but as the story progresses, it becomes clear a smile isn't always enough.

And it's heart-breaking, not only to see someone being punished for being who they are, but also because the world's attitude towards those who get crushed by it. Don't let the bastards grind you down, but don't stir trouble either - whether you refuse to be ashamed of who you are, or you cave under pressure, you can't fucking win.

This is really the core of "Boys Don't Cry". Though on the surface it's a story about Dante's struggles with fatherhood, it's really a deep exploration of what it is to be a man and the expectations that your family and society heap upon you. It's about the fact that boys are raised to meet every expectation, tackle every challenge, without acknowledging their need for emotional support or being taught to give it readily. It's about the fact that, sometimes, the bastards do grind you down, and there's nothing shameful about it.

Really, the more I think about this story, the more I like it. Do give it a read - it lends itself to a lot more depth as the time goes by.

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