The Wrong Shoes by Tom Percival

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The Wrong Shoes by Tom Percival

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: A moving portrait of the current socio-economic difficulties that so many children are living through, that is also just a really great story about a boy's life and his friendships.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: May 2024
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's UK
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781398527126

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Will's life is difficult, in a multitude of ways. He is bullied because he has 'the wrong shoes', he has the wrong shoes because his dad can't work and doesn't have enough money for even the most basic of things like food, and his dad can't work because he lost his job at the college, was working a cash-in-hand job on a building site and had an accident. Throw into that mix the fact that his mum and dad are separated, and Will's life seems bleak in every direction. And yet, he still has a tiny amount of hope. He is good at art, and clings to the moments of joy when he is drawing, that feel like a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

This is a well-written, moving story that provides a searing insight into the desperate poverty that many, many children across the UK are currently enduring thanks to years of cutbacks of services that would have previously supported them and their families. You wish, as you read it, that it was a book that didn't need to be written. But it is powerful in its delivery, inspiring empathy for Will, and for other children, who are living in these conditions. Will is always very matter of fact about his life, and what is happening. He knows his dad could go to a food bank, but he's too proud to do so. He eats as much as he can at lunchtime in school, because it's a free school meal. He saves up coins that fall from the pockets of others at school. And if anyone asks him how things are, he lies through his teeth and says everything is fine. Even to the extent of lying to his mum about how his dad is, not wanting to interrupt her new life with her new partner, or make her worried.

Friendship is an important part of the story. His best friend Cameron leads a much wealthier life, and I felt the difficulties that this brings to their friendship was really well portrayed. Cameron offers Will his old trainers, because he is kind and he sees that Will gets bullied for his old, broken shoes. But Will is proud, and doesn't want to be a charity case for Cameron. The bully of the story, Chris, is also interesting as a character because, as most bullies usually are, he is a complicated character, and his life isn't all it seems to be initially. The changes in Will and Chris' relationship are sensitively navigated, and I really liked how things played out in this part of the story.

It is, at times, quite a dark tale. I felt so desperately sorry for Will, and his emotional turmoil is so raw sometimes it's very moving. And yet there is always this glimmer of hope underneath. The hope of things turning out for the best in the end. The story ends in a positive manner, but gratifyingly without an unbelievable 'everything is brilliant' ending, making it a more realistic and therefore satisfying conclusion. I loved the confidence Will gains, and the way he triumphs over temptations and desperation to find hope within his friendships, and the strength to be true to his own character.

There are striking illustrations throughout the book that match the story well. They help with accessibility, I think, in breaking up the chapters and text, and have an engaging comic book or graphic novel style. It feels like the story would work best for children aged around 9 to 13, perhaps especially as a class story, that would allow for a discussion around some of the topics raised through the book. A very good book, and definitely recommended.

You might also like to read The Boy Who Lied by Kim Slater or The Harder They Fall by Bali Rai. For another thought-provoking way of looking at what's going on in our world, we can recommend Planet Storyland by James Sherwood Metts.

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