The Harder They Fall by Bali Rai

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The Harder They Fall by Bali Rai

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Category: Dyslexia Friendly
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Story of bullying and poverty and the power of friendship, told with passion by Bookbag favourite, Bali Rai. Super-readable and dyslexia friendly.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 104 Date: May 2017
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1781126828

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Cal loves comic books. He also dreams of being a superhero and saving the day while simultaneously winning the heart of the girl (Freya being the girl, hopefully). Batman is his favourite superhero. But Cal's world outside his daydreams is not particularly superhero-like. Because Cal is a bit of a geek and he is being bullied by mean girl Anu, who makes him complete homework assignments which she then sells on to lazy classmates. Still, it's not all bad. Cal's parents are lovely and the gorgeous Freya is making friendly overtures...

... and then Jacob arrives at school. As a newbie, he's a target for the school bullies Anu and Myles anyway, but it's not helped by his shabby clothes, standoffish ways, and aggressive manner. Cal wants to help Jacob fit in but Jacob, it seems, doesn't want anyone's help. Cal gets a clue as to why when he is helping his mother volunteer at a local food bank and spots Jacob come in with his mother.

After that, everything happens very quickly.

I loved this story. It's short and sharp and very, very passionate. Bali Rai, a favourite in these 'ere parts, has written an afterword talking about poverty and inequality in the UK and the shame and stigma associated with it. It's an angry afterword and I share Rai's anger. We must resist the slide into becoming a mean society whose most striking characteristic is a lack of empathy. But The Harder They Fall isn't a misery-fest. It's a story of the power of friendship and hope more than it is a story of degradation. The friendship between Cal, Freya and the initially unwilling Jacob is one of equals. As it should be. As both a powerful critique of inequality and a passionate defence of friendship as a unifying force, The Harder They Fall is successful on two levels.

And it feels very real. Cal might not need food banks but he does know what it feels like to be bullied. Most children will know what it's like to end up at the wrong end of a particular social pecking order at school and this part of the story was equally well-handled. All three of the protagonists here are superheroes if you ask me. I'd like to meet them in real life! I think the most important thing here, though, is that literature has the strongest power to build empathy I know. It will always be a tool of resistance.

The Harder They Fall is part of Barrington Stoke's super-readable range. It comes in with a low word count, carefully-selected font, double-spaced text, and is printed on thick, non-glare paper. This makes it suitable for both dyslexic and reluctant readers. But don't think this makes it in any way simple. It has a complex thematic depth and fans of the current vogue for short, sharp fiction - even those who like the flash fiction format - will love it too. Barrington Stoke puts the reading age at 8+ and interest age at 13+ and, a single, fairly chaste kiss and and an off-page encounter with a bully's violence aside, there's nothing in here that I'd be afraid to allow a child of 8+ to read.


Other brilliant and super-readable stories published by Barrington Stoke include Desirable by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Robot Girl by Malorie Blackman. The Blade series by Tim Bowler is a masterclass in gripping, short, sharp, episodic fiction.

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Buy The Harder They Fall by Bali Rai at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Harder They Fall by Bali Rai at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.

Buy The Harder They Fall by Bali Rai at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Harder They Fall by Bali Rai at


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