Soldier Boy by Danny Rhodes
|Soldier Boy by Danny Rhodes|
|Genre: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A gritty but tremendously romantic story about a boy who joins the army because it gives him a sense of self and offers opportunities - or so he thinks. It's beautifully paced and heartbreakingly honest.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 208||Date: March 2009|
|Publisher: Maia Press|
Scottie and his mates live on a sink estate. Since their schooldays finished, there's been a lot of hanging about and killing time, a good few visits to Job Centre Plus, and a few forays into soul-destroying, dead-end jobs. Scottie knows he's better than this, but his options are limited and opportunities are few and far between. His girlfriend Mel is doing slightly better - she's learning to be a hairdresser and she is really making a go of it. Scottie needs something too.
So when the army recruiters come around, Scottie decides to join up. His uncle served in the Falklands, so Scottie isn't under any illusions about the risks he faces, but at last someone is offering him some self-respect and something to aim for. Mel and his mother aren't keen, but Scottie is determined. His job will take him out of the estate and across the world to a country of utter contrast - but what will be waiting for him when he gets back?
You know, a lot of guff is talked and written about crossover fiction. Mostly, it's by idiotic adults trying to justify why they enjoyed reading a children's novel. I can't imagine why they feel the need to justify it - to my mind, you're much more likely to find high quality on the children's shelf at the bookshop than you are the adult shelves, which are too often slaves to genre box-ticking. But what I particularly like about Danny Rhodes is that what he is writing really is proper crossover fiction. I genuinely don't know whether to categorise it as adult or young adult. I said the same thing about his previous book, Asboville, but I think it bears repeating.
I think perhaps Rhodes is trying to write the kinds of conversations adolescents and adults so often don't have with one another, and kudos to him for that. He also shows the subtleties in relationships that are expressed more by what isn't said than what is and I envy his light touch.
Soldier Boy is a mix of gritty realism and intense romanticism. Scottie is a lovely boy, full of promise, but that promise is threatened by his failing urban environment. If he doesn't join the army, a long life in a dead end, soulless job at the chicken factory stretches out before him. Is it any wonder he grabs the chance? Army life is tough, but it gives him a sense of self and a sense of belonging too. We all need community in our lives and if our communities have failed us, we cannot be surprised if our individuals fail us too. But poor Scottie doesn't fail anyone, and that is the real sadness.
It's about life and death, life-changing decisions, coming of age, and the relationships we have with our family and friends. It's about the places we grow up and the people we know. It's about coming to terms with grief. Soldier Boy is written with good pace, emotional honesty and a clear-sighted and humane view of people, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
My thanks to the author and Maia Press for sending the book.
You might also enjoy The Dirty South by Alex Wheatle which also tells a story in retrospect and has the same blend of realism and romanticism. Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold might also appeal.
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