Teacher's Dead by Benjamin Zephaniah
|Teacher's Dead by Benjamin Zephaniah|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Powerful and hard-hitting, this is the kind of topical, real life novel that all children, but particularly urban children, can engage with. It confronts their prejudices and challenges them with some big issues, but it is unashamedly accessible and democratic. Bookbag loves Benjamin Zephaniah.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: September 2007|
|Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC|
My name is Jackson Jones. I stood and watched a teacher die. For the first time in my life I felt real shock. I didn't panic, I just froze. I wanted to walk away but I couldn't. I tried to walk away from the place of death but I couldn't. I was the quickest at the one hundred metres in my year, I had only been beaten once in the long jump, and my reflexes were sharp. But all that stuff was useless. My whole body actually went numb. They say the brain is like a computer, well, my computer crashed.
What an opening. In Teacher's Dead Benjamin Zephaniah rides straight through everybody's taboos, everybody's prejudices, everybody's niceties and gets straight to the heart of the matter. Jackson, a deep-thinking and intelligent fifteen-year-old, is aware that witnessing a murder is going to affect him in ways he wants to imagine even less than he would ever have wanted to imagine that one day he would watch a teacher die before his very eyes. But he eschews counselling. He doesn't want to be told that the memories will fade with time. As a witness, he feels a need to bear witness, and if he's going to do that, then he needs to understand how such a seemingly meaningless and terrible crime came to be committed. And so he embarks upon his own brand of therapy - an investigation into the death of Mr Joseph. And he finds that things are never as simple as they seem.
And what an opening again. Zephaniah's control of language is deceptively simple and incredibly strong. As a poet, he knows when and how to use rhythm, clearly. But here, in this incredible hook of an opening paragraph, he shows that he understands and can effectively communicate to a whole generation of young people - the bright but also the less articulate, the socially aware but also the sheltered. These are short sentences with simple words but they punch way above their emotional weight. Every frame of reference is an adolescent's frame of reference - personal emotion, social standing, PE, even computers. Every child in every class up and down the land will understand this paragraph. No one will feel patronised by it, confused by it, or lectured by it. If I could write one paragraph as effective as this one just once in my life, I'd die happy.
Teacher's Dead explores many topical issues - the most obvious being violence in schools, especially against teachers. It also talks about family background, personal relationships, vengeance, forgiveness, media intrusion, the criminal justice system. It doesn't excuse bad actions, but it does show situations that are never black and white and it makes a powerful stand against the horrible social tendency to use scapegoating as a means of avoiding community responsibility. Two boys are never anything other than guilty of taking the life of an innocent man but unless we understand - literally and metaphorically - how the knife came to be in their hands, we will never know the truth.
Strong, honest, democratic, accessible to all, Teacher's Dead comes highly recommended by Bookbag.
My thanks to the good people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.
David Almond's The Fire-Eaters takes similar notions of class, violence and family environment, but gives them a magic realism twist.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Teacher's Dead by Benjamin Zephaniah at Amazon.com.
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