Friday, December 7, 2012

Pigeon English - Stephen Kelman

“You could see the blood. It was darker than you thought. It was all on the ground outside Chicken Joe’s. It just felt crazy. 
Jordan: “I’ll give you a million quid if you touch it.”
Me: “You don’t have a million.”
Jordan: “One quid then.” 
You wanted to touch it but you couldn’t get close enough. There was a line in the way:

POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS”

When a young lad is stabbed and killed nearby Harri is there to witness the aftermath. The grieving mother, the friends and relatives leaving momentums in the street amongst the flowers. The boys shoes are hung up by their laces on the railing where it happened. And during all of it Harri and his friends are thinking ‘whodunit’. Once the rain comes and washes away the blood it would appear life has gone on, people return to work, to school but Harri and his friend Dean decide to take the law into their own hands and see if they have any better luck finding the killer than the police do. The pair of them set out hoping that they will find the killers identity together, after all, dectectives work better in pairs. It’s safer that way... or it should be.

***

I wasn’t sure about Pigeon English when I started reading it. I have read other books which are written in a more unconventional way but weren’t as confusing as this, but once you get used to the strange language and Harri’s voice it turns into a great, important story.

Harri has recently moved with his mum and older sister from Ghana. They are starting a new life in London and Harri is counting down the days until his dad, little sister and grandma can join them. Whilst he’s doing this though he has to keep away from the bullies, keep the Dell Farm Crew off his back, be the man of the house and investigate a murder. He has all the new rules to learn about the English Language, his school and his friends. There are a lot of rules. 

The story was really interesting for me. It was scary and with the murder on top of everything else for Harri it felt like he had the world on his shoulders. The ‘crew’ ruled the estate and the school playground. It was hard for Harri to keep out of their way and he was often bullied into doing stuff to save his reputation. I got a feeling that this is quite true to what estates like the one Harri was living on are like and I was amazed by the realism that came from the pages. 

Pigeon English is a hard book to read, not least do you have to get around the language barriers, getting used to Harri’s strange phrases like ‘Asweh’ and ‘hutious’ but theres a strong sense of violence and an underlying of adult themes within the book too. I feared for Harri on more than one occasion and wanted more than anything for him to get out of that estate whilst he still had a morsel of innocence. The boys and girls in Harri’s class seem to have an air of innocence about them, even though a lot of them swear. There are parts of the book where Harri is explaining what something means, like his sisters friends ‘sucking off boys’ and the reference isn’t quite what I knew it to be as an older person. He mentions ‘the sex’ rather than sex and doesn’t know what an erection is. These things might be because of the language barrier but I get the feeling that some of his friends - even the ones who have grown up in the UK - aren’t quite sure about those things either. There’s also the game that Dean and Harri are involved in with the murder... they view the chasing of a suspect as a game, its nothing to fear and any evidence is for their eyes only. This makes the contrast between them and the world they’re growing up in even scarier because it really shows how much living in that kinda of environment can shape you. The kids just a couple of years older than Harri have had their eyes open but I felt like I didn’t want Harri’s eyes to be open yet. 

There’s not a nice part of this story. It’s hard to read and the things the kids do and say are terrifying. Pigeon English gives what I can believe is a true to life glimpse at what goes on in certain parts of the UK and the reference Stephen makes to Damilola Taylor in the acknowledgements and the Q&A at the back of the book further enhance this. The problems in this book do happen, there is knife and gang crime in our cities and something needs to be done about it. That’s why I honestly think that Pigeon English should be required reading in all high schools, we need to open children’s eyes to what this kind of crime does to people and help guide our future generations on the right path. 

Pigeon English was first released as an adult novel in 2011 by Bloomsbury. Recently rebranded as a YA novel with a new cover, inspiration piece and author Q&A, which was published on October 11th. My copy was sent from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

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1 comment:

Jesse Owen said...

Wow, this sounds as you say like an important read for everyone especially young people - will be adding to my wish list!