‘Deacon King Kong’ – James McBride

Set in 1969, the book begins in dramatic fashion with the shooting of a young drug dealer by the elderly man who used to teach him to play baseball. Known as Sportcoat, though he commits a crime in front of many witnesses, people seem to look after their own and nobody says anything. The dealer, Deems, survives but it marks the onset of a curious turn of events.

While the opening was immediately captivating, it took me a while to settle into the rhythm of the book. I found myself wondering exactly what I was reading as we’re introduced to a colourful cast of characters that I found it hard to warm to.

At times I found myself laughing at the darkly comic way in which McBride writes about their tribulations, then I wondered if this was insensitive. Was I missing something? I’m still not sure.

As we follow the events that ripple out from the shooting of Deems it was clear that we were being given the opportunity to see a community in transition. The growing issue of drug abuse and the threat it poses to the previously manageable way of life was interesting. The stories interlinking the characters felt a little contrived on occasion, but believable in this context.

Deacon King Kong is not a book that I would necessarily have chosen to read if it weren’t for the 2022 Pop Sugar Challenge. It is certainly a book I would read again, and an author I would be keen to try more of.


‘The Sharp Edge of Silence’ – Cameron Kelly Rosenblum

The Sharp Edge of Silence examines toxic masculinity and its impact from the perspectives of those it affects.

Set in the privileged Lycroft School, students are accustomed to being asked who they want to be. Their alumni take up powerful positions in society, which makes this a read that you can’t help but notice.

Our story focuses on a number of students, among them Quinn who has returned to school having been raped by one of the star athletes at the end of the previous year. We also experience life at school through the eyes of her roommate, girlfriend of one of the rowers implicated, a scholarship student inducted into the rowing team and his best friend. There are also snippets on interactions between key staff which allows us to examine this culture from a number of positions.

Although we know from early on that Quinn was raped, the book opens by focusing on her unusual behaviour upon returning to school. You’d think people would notice and they do, eventually, but my goodness is she put through the wringer before things start to get done.

Having read the synopsis of this book I was under the impression that the focus would be firmly rooted on the reaction to the event. It is, but in a much more drawn-out way than you might think. This is not a bad thing, just quite different to what I predicted, which took a while to adjust to.

Once we move into the closing stages of the book, we see more than one or two students examining their assumptions. The way the lid is blown on this sordid experience is nothing short of spectacular. Though there are repercussions for the key player involved it frustrated me no end that we never gain any insight into his mind after the truth comes out. While this might be the grim reality, part of me wants more hope from our fictional explorations of such behaviours.

I’m hugely grateful to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this before publication, and I can’t wait to see how it’s received upon publication next year.


‘When Our Worlds Collided’ – Danielle Jawando

When Our Worlds Collided is a story that will rile you, dismay you but still leave you with the vague sense that there is hope.

The book began in a way that I found a little jarring, with our introduction to year 11 student Jackson who is out in Manchester on a date with the girl he’s fancied for ages. The dialogue between them felt a little unnatural on occasion, but you could put this down to awkwardness at the situation. There are occasional glimpses of a boy in a red puffa jacket, and we know this will be significant – and it isn’t long before we realise just how important. When Jackson and his date head outside they sense a shift in the mood – and then they become aware of chaos on the street. A boy has been stabbed.

While Jackson is worried about what he has seen – as a black teenager he is acutely conscious of how he is perceived – he feels compelled to try and offer assistance to the young girl doing her best to get help and stop the bleeding. The boy on the floor is the boy in the red puffa jacket. He is not known to Jackson, but 14 year old Shaq becomes a significant character for the three teenagers who stop to offer assistance.

We then follow the viewpoints of Jackson, Chantelle and Marc as they navigate their first real experience of something that they are aware of as a threat. Their reaction to Shaq’s stabbing was very believable, and I liked the fact that Jawando doesn’t shy away from some unpalatable truths about the media and how certain crimes are reported, or the evident upset felt by the two male characters.

From the moment Jackson – someone who offers assistance to a person in need – is checked out by the police because of his skin colour, it’s hard to ignore the underlying tension caused by racism. As a teacher I found myself riled up by the character of Mrs Edwards, and it made me desperately sad that in so many ways society is still determined to place unnecessary barriers in the way of others.

What happens to these three teens felt harsh, and this was more upsetting by the knowledge that this is the reality for so many people. Yet they find support from each other, and the lovely Eileen sticking with Marc when he’s not used to adults treating him with respect made me far more emotional than it should have.

While this made no difference to my enjoyment of the story, I found myself infuriated by the mistakes made in regards to grading in schools. On numerous occasions the students refer to getting grade 10s…there is no such thing! I also felt that once Jackson’s story develops it became rather lacking in credibility – perhaps if there’d been some link to Shaq’s story it might have felt credible, but everything felt rather rushed by the end – and included to make a point rather than as a realistic development of the story that had been started.

Nominated for the Yoto Carnegie 2023 Awards, I’m sensing a definite push with these nominations towards books that explore themes of identity and belonging and which have a clear focus on exploring social issues. This is certainly important, but I don’t want to lose sight of the value of just being able to recommend a book because it has a great plot or because it says something to you.


‘My Policeman’ – Bethan Roberts

Started again in November having read none of it last month, and this is a definite case of rounding up my review though there’s many elements of it that frustrated me.

The Policeman is a book that I only heard about when looking for a book to fulfil a PopSugar2022 category, and it tells the story of Marion and her husband, Tom, and the third wheel to their relationship, Patrick.

Our setting is 1950s Brighton. This period was evoked well, and the claustrophobic nature of the setting was necessary to highlight the key focus of the story. Marion becomes best friends with Tom’s sister and has a crush on him, she waits for him to return from National Service and engineers ways to spend time with him. Though this might seem rather forward for the time, it’s clear from the outset that Tom isn’t going to get her into the expected trouble as he is gay.

Given the time, this can’t be named. The secrecy surrounding people trying to express their feelings is something I find hard to accept, though I do think the writer presents this well. The knowing looks and euphemisms highlight just how brave someone who lived their life as they wanted to really was, but the situations that are referenced throughout emphasise just what a risk was being taken.

The book begins with Marion’s view and takes us through the beginnings of her relationship with Tom. We see them enter marriage, and when the narrative shifts to Patrick’s diary it is evident that this is not going to end well.

Through Patrick’s eyes we see his pursuit of Tom and their subsequent relationship. I felt desperately sad that these men could not be honest about their feelings for one another and that the selfishness of each of the characters led to this very messy situation.

As the book draws to its end we learn that Patrick has had a stroke and is being cared for by Marion. This is no selfless act, rather a need to atone for something she thinks she set in motion by writing a letter to Patrick’s employer. This act – though we are never sure – leads to Patrick being imprisoned for indecency, and though his charm gets him a long way we know he is beaten for being gay.

In spite of the setting and general story being presented so well, I found it difficult to understand the motivation of any of the characters. For seemingly progressive people, they were quite restricted in their thinking. I was frustrated by the fact that we never hear Tom’s view and he is only seen through the eyes of others. The hero-worship was never justified for me. The structuring of the book began well, but things moved so quickly at the end and it seems a shame that for what was clearly such a major event in Patrick’s life, so little focus was paid to what followed. Perhaps there was a reason for this – others have commented that Tom’s silence and his absence from Patrick’s life may be intentional – but it niggled. I also found myself increasingly frustrated by the fact that each of the characters was so determined to pursue their course of action in spite of it making them so bloody miserable! Was it worth it?