Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray
|Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy
|Summary: A wonderful glimpse into the world of the teenage boy. Warm, funny, heartrending and perfectly plotted, it will steal your heart and a great many awards.
|Date: July 2008
Every so often a book comes along and reminds you why became a reviewer in the first place. You find something special and the urge to tell everyone else all about it simply spills out of you. Ostrich Boys is such a book.
Blake, Kenny, Sim and Ross are inseparable. As far as boys tell one another anything, these four tell one another everything. They're as tight a group as you could possibly imagine. So when Ross is killed in a traffic accident, the other three boys are devastated. Feeling ignored at the funeral, the anger in their grief finds hypocrisy everywhere - Ross's mother was too strict, his father was too wrapped up in himself, his sister embarrassed him in front of the whole school, his girfriend finished with him and broke his heart. Even the school bully, Munro, puts in an appearance at the church.
Determined to give their friend the send-off they think he deserved, Blake, Kenny and Sim steal his ashes and embark on an odyssey to Ross, the namesake town the real Ross had always wanted to visit.
And oh my goodness. I wept buckets, but this book isn't schmaltzy, or saccharine. It's perfect. Right from the title Ostrich Boys inhabits the teenage emotional landscape with unerring precision and great sensitivity. This book is all about getting your head out of the sand because unless you do, you'll never move on - or grow up. Each of the three travellers has his own guilt to face and the journey is a metaphor for it. It's beautifully plotted, with each event or meeting along the way - the boys lose their tickets, Blake does a bungee jump, they meet some girls - having a later significance. I'm in awe at the intelligence behind the structure, with little pieces of the puzzle slotting into place at just the right moment. I can't think of a word that was wasted.
As we get to know the central characters - Blake is the introspective thinker, Kenny is the slightly insecure and spoiled one, Sim's disadvantaged background makes him the angriest and most vulnerable - so do Ross's last days also begin to unravel, as does the horrifying possibilty that his death wasn't an accident at all.
The journey to Ross itself is a rather slapstick affair, beset by disaster, allowing Gray the opportunity for some humour - and it's this light touch that makes the book both so revealing and so humane. Nobody's bludgeoned into understanding its points. The dialogue is wonderful too, also combining existential ideas with humour. In a discussion about what the dead Ross will miss out on most, Kenny votes for hovercars over naked breasts - Because he's probably already seen his sister's tits, hasn't he?
Oh you know. I don't know what else to say. This is a wonderful book, beautifully written, cleverly written, humorously written, humanely written. Just go and read it.
My thanks to the nice people at Definitions for sending the book.
Another completely wonderful story featuring an urn of ashes in a teenage boy's backpack is Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine. Black Rabbit Summer by Kevin Brooks also unravels the dynamics of a teenage group of friends.
Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray is in the Costa Book Awards 2008.
Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray is in the Booktrust Teenage Prize 2009.
You can read more book reviews or buy Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray at Amazon.com.
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Megan Campbell said:
Two words, Insightful book, I am a teenager who read this book simply out of curiosity by title and plot. Head on pillow and book in hand, I love to read but not often do I come across a book so rare that includes sadness, happiness, humour, anxiety and anger. This story came alive through character and inflicting emotions, each character defined but different.
I stuck to the book anticipated to learn the characters understanding of their journey and to see what would become of this adventure. Doing so, I found myself impressed while introduced to new perceptions like whether Ross' death was 'accidental' or suicide? A thought I’d never had considered.
Listening to 'Fall away' by Fray I helplessly reflect on the book I’d read that came to close a wonderful adventure and yet as the price they pay draws close, above all the boys had a good time.
If ever asked what the book meant to me I’d say it was the questions i never asked and the answers I never knew.