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Henry Tumour by Anthony McGowan

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Stylish, funny, and wonderfully observed, Henry Tumour tackles some very big ideas in a speechlessly cool way. It's also heart-stoppingly romantic at times. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Definitions
ISBN: 978-0099488231

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Not much by way of introduction, is it? Hector Blunty has a brain tumour, Henry. And arsecheese is the way Henry Tumour says hello. Hector is a geeky kid with geeky friends. He likes the Justice League, Star Trek, science and girls. But he knows he stands no chance with girls. Hector, with his ageing hippy mother, distinct lack of cool, poor fighting skills and now his talking brain tumour, is a bit of loser. But Hector doesn't mind too much. His friends are good friends. And he's never wanted to win by fighting anyway.

A quiet and contemplative life trying to avoid the bullies in the school's minor leagues is not what Henry Tumour has in mind though. For Henry knows only too well that life is all too short - and his life in particular. He's going to die soon and there's a very big possibility that he'll take Hector with him. Henry is, understandably, all for the moment. So he talks and talks and talks to Hector. And while he's talking, he tinkers with Hector's brain. Suddenly, Hector finds himself standing up to the school bullies and snogging the school sex symbol, Uma Upshaw, she of the the perfect bra-busters (even her initals, UU, look like bazoomas).

And all the while, time is running out...

I loved, loved, loved this book. It's vivid, it's anarchic, it's unbearably cool. Told in a stream of consciousness, stand-up comedian style, it's also very, very funny. There were moments when I had to put it down because I was howling with laughter. Henry Tumour is one of those books that makes you look silly when you're walking down the street, because you keep remembering the funniest bits and they make you howl with laughter all over again, only this time in public and for no, well, public, reason. I shan't forget the deconstruction of the Borg Queen's scary sexiness - And then Gonad said, "I wouldn't mind being assimilated by that Borg Queen," and we all just looked at him - in a long, long time.

I recognised all these children - my two sons aren't far from Hector's age - and the observation of adolescent teen life is just spot on. In fact, I'm quite sure that Mr McGowan bugged my house in the course of his research. He definitely stole the part where the school population is broken down by percentage into psychos, normals, nerds, retards and brainys.

And if so much hilarity weren't enough, it's also very clever. There are some big themes tackled here, not least of which is human mortality. I can't honestly say that I've come to grips with that one myself. Death scares the hell out of me. In Henry Tumour, Henry has only one fate - a soon and certain death, and as it approaches he becomes more and more urgent and less and less sagacious. In the end, he just babbles. But Hector's life is in the balance, and he must come to terms with this.

Henry Tumour is also all about another age-old theme - given that life is only temporary, how do we reconcile our desires with our ethics? To what extent should we put ourselves first? This dilemma is particularly apropos for teenagers; they've just made it through the stage in which their every move is supervised by parents and are looking forward to making some real pleasure-principle choices, only to find that a nebulous web of something called ethics is standing slap-bang in their way. Not good, as Henry Tumour would certainly agree.

As Mal Peet has said, there's a lot of Shakespeare in this book, including some incredibly intense romanticism, over and above the stuff that Henry Tumour spouts. But then, all - all? all?! oh, you know what I mean! - Shakespeare really did was to take age-old stories and re-tell them in a contemporary and incredibly cool way. And that's exactly what Anthony McGowan has done in Henry Tumour. Bravo.

My thanks to the good people at Random House, for sending me this wonderful book.

If they enjoyed Henry Tumour, they might also enjoy My Side Of The Story by Will Davis which is equally funny, or Alison Prince's Jacoby's Game which is less funny, but equally left-field and which tackles some similar ideas. The Memory Book by Lara Avery is a first-person story about a neurological disease. We can also recommend Wink by Rob Harrell.

Booklists.jpg Henry Tumour by Anthony McGowan is in the Top Ten Teen Books That Adults Should Read.

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The Author said:

Hey, that's my book! And, Well, what an utterly delightful review. Thanks, Jill, it really made my day.

By the way, anyone who likes Henry Tumour will probably also like my first young adult novel, Hellbent.

Thanks again

Anthony McGowan

Jill replied:

You're welcome!