The Humiliations of Welton Blake by Alex Wheatle
|The Humiliations of Welton Blake by Alex Wheatle|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: An implausible level of complaints from our title character might not grind us all down as it did me, but it is sure this book will not land fully with the specialist market it's aimed for, and the amount of problems caused by that ending mean this is not one of the publisher's best.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 176||Date: January 2021|
|Publisher: Barrington Stoke|
|External links: Author's website|
We meet Welton Blake at the worst of times – only they should be the best of times. He should be getting a text from the most bae-worthy girl in school in regards to a cinema date, but his phone has packed up, he's chundered last night's meal and his breakfast over another girl in class, who's duffed him up in response, and the wanna-bae seems to actually be with someone else anyway. On a bigger scale he's living with his mother and not much income now that the dad has left the picture – yes, things are so bad they're resorting to having cabbage for dinner. I know, right? But surely this is just a blip, a day at school to forget, and everything (like his vomit) will all come out in the wash? This can't be the start of a most nightmarish time for young Welton?
We meet Barrington Stoke, if we haven't before, at the best of times, for however many years they purposefully deliver books like this for those readers with dyslexia or other, similar, reading difficulties, they are still at the front of the game. They still have the thick, off-white paper stock, most readable font and everything else, that makes one of their books so identifiable to those in the know. And within their funky covers is a book that doesn't show the reluctant or disadvantaged reader up and make him or her look the school dunce. This is destined, we're told, to appeal to those aged 11 or so, yet demand of the reader only that they have the reading ability of someone who's eight or thereabouts. But as for getting a bad rep at school goes, we must return to Welton.
What we have is a list of woes, and the complaints swing from the minutiae of his school life to the greater problems at home – but the problem with creating a story such as this is making sure we're on the side of the narrator doing all the complaints. If he's just kvetching for no reason we're not exactly going to be entertained. And this is where the book will end up generating a very different response from adults than it does with the target audience – mature minds will see his grousing about something a young child does as a selfish response to an honest mistake; the intended reader may see this as legitimate reason to bemoan his lot.
Mind you, before then we will raise adult eyebrows at our hero earning his tuck shop money – soon, he hopes, to be cinema admission funds – from creating disses he sells to the picked-on in class. But the thing is, I still think this, however pacey and inherently readable, is not without flaws for all. I was quickly tired of the Star Wars references, and finding one on the majority of early pages as I did was more than a bit too much – we're not exactly talking a dense, small font text here. And, with the specific purpose of entertaining those with reading issues, I did find the inclusion of Black British slang and colloquialism a bit out of place. It took me too many minutes to actually work out why his clothes were garms, and I'd never heard of pocket cash being the jingles. Yes, the whole patois almost got cadazy (apparently).
Still, let's forget for now my ignorance of schoolroom slang, 2020s style. What we have here is very much a mixed bag that is far too much mixed. One moment the problems are the usual, perfectly understandable and recognisable, school life problems; the next they're the equally relatable home life issues Welton faces. But the fact remains throwing in a sports book cliché from the top drawer of sports book clichés, and failing completely to resolve a heck of a lot of the scenario, does not make for a good book. We get an ending that leaves an insurmountable total of things hanging, and – for all the reasons the book has given us to doubt Welton's potential in being accepted – we're supposed to believe the fairy tale fantasy that one night in the cinema is going to make him and everything about him turn out right. We'd scoff at that if it was about a girl, suddenly boosted to untouchable status courtesy a Prince Charming figure, and I don't think we should be accepting that conclusion just because it's a young man gaining creds from just one date.
Perhaps, then, the times for Barrington Stoke are not as perfect as I made out, on this awkward evidence. I must still thank them for sending me a review copy.
We much preferred an early work from this author, the young adult The Dirty South. For the specialist Barrington Stoke audience, The Last Days of Archie Maxwell by Annabel Pitcher also calls up school problems alongside an unrequited crush.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Humiliations of Welton Blake by Alex Wheatle 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 The Humiliations of Welton Blake by Alex Wheatle at Amazon.com.
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