Crowboy by David Calcutt

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Crowboy by David Calcutt

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: An assured first novel about war, human nature and the strength of spirituality. It's told by multiple narrators and has a tense, mythological feel to it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: February 2008
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 0192727494

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In a dystopian future world plagued by an endless war, the Troggs and the Geeks roam a ruined city stockpiling scrap metal; the only remaining currency. Orphaned by bombs, these children observe the brutal rule of survival of the fittest. Territory is everything. Gang rivalry runs high and violence is a way of life. But when Mal and Joey come into their world, things start to unravel. Both gangs see Joey - a strange, mystical boy - as a chance to finally win supremacy over the other. They can see he has spiritual power and they are both attracted and repelled by it. Neither are above using it to their advantage though. Mal is another orphan. She has followed Joey from another burned out and besieged city where she too was orphaned. But for Mal, there are glimmers of other paths in life. She's not sure why she follows Joey, but she sees that he may offer a way out of the violence.

And Joey? Who knows what he sees. He doesn't know himself. Joey is driven by visions. He is the Crowboy.

Crowboy is an immensely assured first novel. It's tense and atmospheric, blending reality and magic and creating an almost mythological feel in a future dystopian setting. Everything feels dislocated and timeless and Calcutt wastes very little time in exposition; it's all about the here and now for the children of these two gangs. And of course, the here and now is all very Lord of the Flies. Gang society is a devolved society running very much along the lines of winner takes all. Behavioural boundaries exist, but are naturally being pushed all the time by adolescents who have no external authority. The book uses this to ask the ultimate question about war - is it in us all? Is it an inevitable part of human nature, or is there another path?

Crowboy has multiple narrators. This is a risky technique at the best of times, particularly when you're writing for children, and particularly when you're building tension - confused readers don't get tense; they just get more confused. But here it works wonderfully well. The book is asking many questions to which there are many answers. Life's big questions can't be answered by one point of view, we need to understand everyone's motivators before we can understand enough to develop our own opinion. Crowboy allows readers to test their own values against a variety of others and its competing narrators act to enhance its tension rather than diffuse it. Further adding to the sense of immediacy is a highly idiomatic style.

Fans of magic realism aged from about ten to about fourteen will absolutely love it.

My thanks to the good people at Oxford University Press for sending the book.

If they enjoyed the magic realism in Crowboy, they would also like anything by David Almond. Older children particularly might also enjoy the kill-or-be-killed atmosphere of The Inferior by Peadar ó Guilín.

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