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Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
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's review
Oct 29, 11

Read in October, 2011

A schoolboy from Ghana living in a London Council estate, coping with his new life and the reality of inner-city living, including the recent stabbing of a local boy. A thought-provoking read, told in a child's voice - in a similar style to 'Room' or 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time' - but with a distinctively London edge. Benefiting myself from some familiarity with Ghana (and London), I enjoyed the authentic use of dialect ('obruni', 'bogah' 'goawayou', 'I go sound you'), though I did wonder whether this would impact on other readers' understanding.

Harri Opoku certainly found his way into my heart with his innocent outlook on life, his love of nature and animals, his catchphrases ("it was brutal"), and his humorous observations on his journey into adulthood. Without revealing too much, the ending was as abrupt and as devastating as the all too frequent reality for some young people and their families living in areas of deprivation in urban environments, as Families United and the Damilola Taylor Trust, whom this book supports, would no doubt testify.

I suppose my criticisms would be the almost idyllic naivety with which the author paints Harri. I agree that many young boys growing up on estates are guiltlessly sucked into the cycle of crime and deviance, and forced to grow up before they are ready, but I wondered if perhaps Harri was too pure, too faultless. It would have made him a more rounded character if we could have seen more of his personal struggles between good and evil. We are all, after all, only human. And I wasn't sure what to make of the pigeon's narrative... A spirit? A guardian angel? A figment of Harri's vivid imagination? Definitely a unique approach...

With parallels with the movie 'Kidulthood', this is an entertaining read, and a good insight into the struggles faced by young people in the UK and the reality of growing up in a urban metropolis. I highly recommend.

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