Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

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Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: An unusual coming of age story about a boy with a medical secret. Some fairly graphic early scenes are disturbing but thereafter, the story is sensitively told.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 416 Date: May 2013
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
ISBN: 978-0297868972

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The publishers of Abigail Tarttelin's Golden Boy go to some lengths to ensure that the potential reader knows that the protagonist, 16 year old Max Walker, has a secret but not what that secret is. You only need to read the first 20 or so pages or so to discover what that secret is. Discussing the book without divulging what that might be is tricky, but let's just say it's a medical condition. The book is told in a number of voices: there's Max himself, his 9 year old brother Daniel, his mother Karen, a female GP called Archie and the loner/cool girl in Max's class Sylvie. In the third part a further voice is added to the mix, but more of that later.

While there is no doubt that Tarttelin tells her story sympathetically and ensures that the pace of the narrative never drops too much, the book is not without its weaknesses for me. Although a rare condition, there have been several novels recently to cover similar conditions, taking away some of the originality of the subject matter. Having said that, the situation that Tarttelin creates is both compellingly strange and thought provoking and she handles this delicately and sensitively. It's open to speculation quite to what degree a 16 year old playing county football could have kept the more physical aspects of his secret for that amount of time, but it does sustain a good story.

My main reservation about the book though is not the content but the style. There's little to distinguish between the different narrative voices and I frequently found myself having to back track to work out which 'I' was being referred to. I cannot help feel that there should be more stylistic difference between the writing of a poetic 16 year old loner school girl, a GP and a trained lawyer.

The writing style is very much toward the Young Adult end of the market. However, I would think twice before recommending it to this market. In addition to Max's opening secret, he is quickly faced with a second and third. The second one, described again early on within the first fifty pages, is told with a disturbing level of graphic description that I would hesitate to recommend to a more sensitive young adult reader. This is critical to the story's development but it would be worth checking you are comfortable with a younger reader being exposed to this level of description.

The father's voice is not brought in until the final part of the book - around three quarters of they way through. I was expecting this to be significant and for him to have some radical, game changing view that put a different slant on things but this isn't really the case. It just appears that he suddenly decides to pitch in which seemed to be to be something of a wasted device.

So, it's not without weaknesses, but it is a fascinating scenario and it's easy to get drawn into the story. It's a relatively light read, but covering some very big issues and it's a story that will make you think and ask yourself questions. The subject matter won't be to everyone's taste and certainly the events early on in the book are traumatically disturbing and it is testament to Tarttelin's skill that the reader feels this as much as the character in her book does. It's certainly a refreshingly different coming of age story.

Our thanks to the kind people at Weidenfeld & Nicolson for sending us this book.

It's hard to recommend further reading, without giving away what Max's secret is, so if you want to avoid all plot spoilers, look away now. However, Annabel by Kathleen Winter covers similar ground while In One Person by John Irving is also much concerned with sexual identity issues. You might also enjoy Out of Practice by Penny Parkes.

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Buy Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin at


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