A Seven-Letter Word by Kim Slater
|A Seven-Letter Word by Kim Slater|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: This is a book that can best the remarkably unoriginal aspects it brings, purely by being so inventively delivered and warmly emotional.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: March 2016|
|Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Finlay has got more than one PROBLEM. He lives alone with his father, who chain-smokes in between trips out to do odd jobs for people, and seems to have reduced his worth to just one recipe since his wife, Finlay's mother, vanished two years ago. Things are still bitter with him – he says she might as well be dead – but the issue manifests itself badly with Finlay, and he has grown into suffering quite a severe STUTTER, which leads to no end of TEASING at school. His one way out, it seems, is for a change an eight-letter word, SCRABBLE – he can hide away from the mismanagement of words that his speaking implies he has over a set of tiles and can play a decent game. But what happens when he is contacted online by a mysterious Alex – is this possibly a way to combine his love of the word game with his quest for the truth about his mother's ABSENCE?
I love Scrabble, so it's a major fillip for me that this book concerns it, to some extent. I have to slap its wrists (or at least those wrists that appear in the digital proof I read of it), for it contains several errors in fact and scoring about the game, but all the same it's an element of the story that works very well. Of course, it's about so much more than that. Finlay needs the game to act as an escape when the world turns against him, and he sees the chance of a national schools' competition as an opportunity to drag his mother back in to contact.
But boy, does the world turn against him – and one bastard amongst its population in particular. There was a little sense that to me the bullying aspect of the story was a bit heavy-handed (and abuse against another character entirely seems a severe mis-step for being shoe-horned in, needlessly). I felt the book was utterly enjoyable regardless of his mistreatment, for the close and intimate first-person, present-tense narrative really brings you into Finlay's life, and the letters he writes in vain hope of his mother seeing the contents can be really quite heart-breaking at times. It's almost as if the author is not convinced of the power of what she has, and lays things on a little thick.
My Bookbag colleague, lucky enough to have been with the author's output from her first found her better at the personal side of the characters she invents, and less great at the thriller twists her stories form. Here I found a lot to be enjoyed with the intrigue, even if one unmentionable 'surprise' proved to be nothing but. What I found was instead a really readable, enjoyable book, that would suit anyone of the right age range – ten to fourteen, at a guess. Not knowing anything about the author I laughed at the local references I know of – well, I've been driven through the village of Bunny several times, and it's mentioned here – but this really is quite a universally acceptable book. It would go down well in Oz, North America – anywhere where strongly-written dramas with some good mystery and great heart are accepted. I recommend you read it –
And once you have, come back to read my final thoughts. What we have here is a teenage lad, failing to get his intelligent thoughts out, grasping for an errant mother, with a cuddly small mammal as pet. In acknowledging how awkward, mysterious and unknowable the adult world is, and how horrid parts of life can be to him, he turns to something a little more cerebral where he can be a surprise success. Is this the book in hand I'm describing, or Mark Haddon's Curious Incident? I don't think you can approach this without seeing it as a very strong candidate for being Haddon's best mimic yet, but that's not only in regard to the compelling similarities they share, but also the fact that this is just as heart-warmingly eloquent about the lead character's problems. I hope that emotional tug makes this just as much of a success.
You can read more book reviews or buy A Seven-Letter Word by Kim Slater at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy A Seven-Letter Word by Kim Slater at Amazon.com.
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