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A Kestrel for a Knave

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  5,113 ratings  ·  382 reviews
Life is tough and cheerless for Billy Casper, a troubled teenager growing up in the small Yorkshire mining town of Barnsley. Treated as a failure at school, and unhappy at home, Billy discovers a new passion in life when he finds Kes, a kestrel hawk. Billy identifies with her silent strength and she inspires in him the trust and love that nothing else can, discovering thro ...more
Paperback, Penguin Modern Classics, 208 pages
Published May 25th 2000 by Penguin (first published 1968)
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David Gallagher I'd say literary fiction. If Drama was a book genre in the fashion that is a movie one, then it would be very fitting for this book. It's simply a sad…moreI'd say literary fiction. If Drama was a book genre in the fashion that is a movie one, then it would be very fitting for this book. It's simply a sad story all around, despite a glimmer of hope or two.(less)

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Average rating 4.03  · 
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 ·  5,113 ratings  ·  382 reviews

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Bionic Jean
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
When I was a child I used to live in a large city in the North of England. One day I was told that my brother, whom I idolised but who had moved to the bright lights of London, was going to pay us a flying visit. Apparently there was a new film which he wanted to see, and it was to be premièred - unusually - in the North. The film was "Kes".

I was pleased, but a little puzzled, when he took me along with him to one of the biggest cinemas in the middle of the city. I was then disappointed to find
Steven Godin
Feb 23, 2021 rated it really liked it

There is a scene roughly midway through this when poor scrawny Billy is bullied by his PE teacher into having a shower after sports. This was the 60s and the same thing was happening when I was at secondary school in the late 80s/early 90s. Teachers then could be damn right cruel. Nowadays a teacher wouldn't dare do such a thing in fear of being verbally abused back, sued for causing mental distress, or being attacked outside the school gates while a mob of kids film the incident on their smartp
Nov 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Ok, so I simply don't understand some people. Now I'm adding 'people who have given kestrel for a knave fewer than four star reviews' to the list of people I don't understand. They seem to be missing the point. So the book, I would not advise anyone looking for a comfortable reading experience to pick this one up, it is uncomfortable from the start. The life it describes is bleak and heartbreakingly deprived. Billy Casper quite literally has nothing, his brother (with whom he has to share a bed) ...more
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A wonderfully raw picture of Northern life. It's bleak and gritty, and written extremely well. Billy Casper is one of life's underdogs, he bears the brunt of everyone's exasperation with their own lives. This includes his bullying brother, his selfish mother, his fellow pupils at school and most of the teachers. He lives for his hawk and Kes is a metaphor for how free he wishes he were. It's a marvellous book and I couldn't recommend it more. It makes me proud to hail from South Yorkshire. ...more
One might glance at this book and judge it to be a light, kid’s book. It isn’t. It does not end with a cute, sweet, happy ending. Mature, older kids, in situations similar to the central character’s, might benefit by reading this book; they would realize they are not alone. Adults are, nevertheless, its primary audience. The author states this in the introduction. In the audiobook this is placed at the book’s end. I appreciate this placement. I say, go into a book with a clean slate and see how ...more
Feb 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A slim volume outlining the life of a young lad in the North of England in the 60s. A tale of gritty realism.

Billy Caspar is bullied at home and at school. He lives on a rough council estate with his mother and brother, his father having walked out long ago. A succession of "Uncles" flit through his and his mothers life. Money is very tight, and occasional petty thievery is one way of getting by. Billy is disinterested in school and the teachers have essentially written him off as pit fodder (En
Parthiban Sekar
Jun 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, english
What a brilliant book this is! There are at times I didn’t comprehend the flow of story but at other times “recalling the past” was all too obvious. Now that I put the pieces together what I am left with is a compelling story in which a Kestrel served as a ray of hope in the life of a helplessly knavish boy.
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Sharp as a knife, the language in this book about a tough boy and the love for his bird. Works wonderfully well.
May 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, contemporary
I read this as part of my English Literature GCSE over 15 years ago (!) and I think our class picked this over the other options because it was the shortest. And we got to watch the film after reading it.

At the time I found it quite interesting, as it’s set in the North of England and depicted a level of poverty I’d seen first hand (although perhaps not in such a prolific way as Billy himself is described as being in). It’s a lovely and ultimately sad story of a lonely boy and his friendship wi
Shirley Revill
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this book many years ago and really enjoyed reading this book.
There is also a film of this book and I thought it made very compelling viewing and was just as good as the book.
Nov 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: general-fiction
It took me 40p to get truely involved in this story - approx. 1/4 of the book. That quarter sets the background for what is to come in the remainder, when the protagonist, Billy, goes to school and one day shows the hilarity, banality, hopelessness and tragedy that surely will be a microcosm of Billy's whole life.

For me, school was not nearly so grim as for Billy, but I could relate strongly to his experience; casual cruelty (from teachers), injustice, bullying, that one teacher who is still cap
Natalie Richards
Aug 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-book
A short but powerful read. Fourteen year old Billy Casper is bullied at school and lives with his uncaring mother and older equally uncaring brother. He suddenly finds something to live for when he finds a young Kestrel.
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: men, europe, fiction, uk
3.5 stars

Such a sad little book that makes you clench your fists because of all the unfairness in the world. Portraying a very unfortunate boy from English working class, it made me think about Polish positivist novelettes, although this one seemed less sentimental and more moving for me, with message clear but not approaching you and punching in the face. Or maybe I’m older now and more sensitive to children’s misery?

I loved the awful portrayal of Billy’s school because although on the surface
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
A Kestrel for a Knave is a day in the very difficult life of a young man in a terribly poor part of England. Billy finds little happiness---not at home with his mother and brother, not at school with his (mostly) cruel teachers and taunting peers---in his life. It is only when he trains a hawk that he feels peace.

Because I work with many, many children who come from the 2017 American version of the main characters in Kestrel, I found the story to be like walking with a poor kid for a whole day.
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written and raw with emotion. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that children don’t still live with this level of deprivation - social and emotional. Not all children are academically bright or are nurtured to be but most will have hidden depths just waiting to be uncovered. The ending is shocking but inevitable and leaves us wondering what sort of life Billy will have now. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

4 stars because so much of the dialogue is skippable.
Apr 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
A boy who doesn't have the ability to articulate his pain finds solace in nature. It's a kitchen sink drama that is elevated by the moving depiction of Billy's "silent" suffering.

I feel a bit ambivalent about this book. On the one hand, I was moved by the fatherless, friendless, semi-literate Billy Casper's plight, the cruelty he suffers, his isolation, his struggle living in poverty with a cruel brother (Jud) and a cold unsympathetic tart of a mother. I could identify with him, having grown up
Moira Macfarlane
Herlezen. Met recht een 'modern classic', nog meer aangegrepen door Billy & Kes dan de eerste keer, de uitzichtloosheid in die tijd als je aan de onderkant van de 'working class' werd geboren....

It was a tough life growing up in the sixties in a miners' town up in the north of England. You can tell Barry Hines grew up in the area at the time, he hits the right note here. A raw, touching and a beautifully written story.
''Look, there's Billy Casper there wi' his pet hawk.' I could shout at 'em
Aug 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: paper-read

False alarum - came across this book as a youngster (can't say "when I was smaller" because I didn't grow much further). I remember crying like a real cry baby at the injustice of it all and then the film was on at the local odeon and cried some more. It starred the lad who played Oliver in Lionel Bart's brilliant rendition of Dickens's masterpiece.

So pretty much done and dusted.
Nov 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone!
An absolute favourite of mine. I'm dating myself but it was recommended for our O level English Literature and I fell totally in love with it. It broke all the rules I understood about writing and is so gritty yet heartwrenching. No chapters just a sit down straight through read. As skinny and forthright as Billy Casper himself. You won't regret reading it (just try finding it!) ...more
Jun 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
My nephew and then my niece recently read this for their GCSEs and both hated it. The exact opposite reaction to their Mother and two Uncles. Maybe it's a generation gap thing - especially as our childhood was less comfortable and therefore maybe a little closer to that of the child in the novel

It's still one of my all time favourites.
The story of fifteen year old Billy Casper growing up in a mining town in the north of England. Billy is the product of a broken home and his life is one of bleakness and poverty. It's the violence of the book that grabs the reader here.

No surprises as to the ending. A powerful and gritty story. Well worth a look at.
Oct 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
A masterpiece - why have I not read this before now??
I must confess that this was a somewhat depressing book to read. It’s the December selection for my real-life book club and it reminded me of an earlier selection we read this year, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx. At first glance, the circumstances of a poor Puerto Rican family in an American ghetto (RF) and a poor family in the North of England (KfaK) might seem to be entirely different. But many of their problems overlap.

Lack of opportunities, poor educatio
John Anthony
Although I haven’t seen the film Kes, I can well understand how the book would lend itself to film. The story line is simple and, alas, predictable. It wasn’t an easy read for me for reasons I’ll try to explain. Stylistically I found it hard – nothing to do with Yorkshire dialect, I grew up in Yorks. It was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It may be mental tiredness on my part, coupled with a touch of heat stroke perhaps, (being a wimpy Brit) which buggered up my concentration.

A mor
Pete daPixie
'A Kestrel for a Knave' is very close to home for me. It's author, Barry Hines is a native of my local landscape. The council estate setting reminds me of my childhood years. The British education system of the 1950's and 1960's is starkly portrayed with a clarity that evokes it's regimented ranks of private canings, corporal punishments and major failings. There were very many personal memories that resurfaced while reading this book. I knew many a Billy Casper. The home life too was familiar. ...more
Feb 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
a kid growing up in a mining town in northern England from a broken family and becomes interested in birds especially hawks and how he trains a kestrel hawk and becomes KES and also highlights his problems at school as book is based in the 1960's its dark and gritty. you become engrossed in billys interest in kes ...more
Jan 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I saw the movie a long time ago, and came across the book by accident.
May 24, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Marxists, gluttons for punishment
By gum, but Yorkshire is bleak.

I've had this book for several years, and I've always put off reading it, because why would I want to be that depressed. Not only is it going to be poor, and bleak, and stunted, and deprived, and mean, there's going to be an wild animal that is the heart and soul and light for one of these inarticulate tragedies of DNA. And what does that mean for that animal, so the author can keep a realistic vision of a relentlessly hard-life, smashed on broken homes, bottles a
Jo Verity
Feb 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this straight after reading 'H is for Hawk'. I've never read it before or seen 'Kes' but I was interested to see how the two books compared. I'm afraid I got a lot more from Barry Hines's short novel. Fictional schoolboy Billy Casper loves and depends on his kestrel in the same way Helen MacDonald depended on Mabel. But I could empathise with Billy, feel his pain, far more readily than with H M. there is one passage where Billy explains to his (only sympathetic) teacher and classmates how ...more
Ian Banks
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-need-a-gin
A just-about perfect novel about a boy who slips through the cracks of our society. He doesn't fit in any of the holes his life has supplied him with and creates his own. But, of course, it doesn't work that way. This is grim but beautifully-written. ...more
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“It's fierce, an' it's wild, an' it's not bothered about anybody, not even about me right. And that's why it's great.” 15 likes
“Look, there's Billy Casper there wi' his pet hawk. I could shout at 'em; it's not a pet, Sir, hawks are not pets. Or when folks stop me and say, "Is it tame?" Is it heck tame, it's trained that's all. It's fierce, and it's wild, an' it's not bothered about anybody, not even about me right. And that's why it's great.” 5 likes
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