Street of Tall People by Alan Gibbons

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Street of Tall People by Alan Gibbons

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: This historical adventure seems a little worthy but has a great narrative drive to convey an important and on-going problem.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 120 Date: October 2011
Publisher: Five Leaves
ISBN: 9781907869235

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It's the East End of London, and it's 1936, and it's a time of fighting. Jewish lad Benny, and Jimmy, who's rather more C-of-E, are going to become firm friends through having a boxing bout against each other. Benny is fighting against the more extreme anti-Goyim sentiments of his neighbour Yaro. Jimmy has to fight, it seems, against life, what with his father dieing and his mother having found a new boyfriend, putting a sense of social outcast on the lad. And all through this is the fight to come, around the corner, against Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts.

Putting two lads in the centre of such a historical conflict should certainly allow for drama, and that's what we get here. It might be a little contrived drama, and a little guessable by the passing adult, but Jimmy is a strong central figure, and his friendship, with the masculine element of the boxing and a secret hideout to share with Benny, is a good way in to the historical truth of the times. There's antagonism everywhere he looks, at home and on the streets, and if we don't get a full sense of the surroundings the boys share we get enough detail to ground their tales in truth.

And of course there is an important truth in this story - the historical instance of mass British Antisemitism. Apparently this is/was part of a set of novels approaching the Cable Street battles against fascism in London, and I say 'is/was' because this book dates from 1995 originally. It shouldn't be possible for it to date and feel aged within a generation, but it did feel a little clunky and too worthy at times, however the compelling drive within each scene and the narrative flow from beginning to end, with snappy, realistic dialogue, is definitely very finely delivered.

Taking the story of Antisemitism further on we get to the historical world of books such as Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, which is a lot more feminine than Gibbons'.

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