Book review

Feather Boy by Nicky Singer (2002)

Here's a book about bullying which really illustrates what a complex relationship there can be between the bully and the victim. More than anything, what seems to hang so negatively between Robert and Niker in this story, is a failed friendship.

Robert is a naturally cautious person and is still coming to terms with his parents' divorce. His father has moved away and remarried, and Robert only sees him occasionally now, by appointment. Meanwhile, Robert lives quietly with his mother, who works shifts at the hospital where she is a nurse. So Robert is not particularly well-equipped to deal with Jonathan Niker when he joins the class. Although there were one or two desultory attempts at friendship between the two, Niker is a compulsive controller of people. His natural reaction, when he finds himself in possession of personal information about another, is to use it against them.

The changing nature of the relationship between Robert and Niker is really only background wallpaper in this book. The main story is about what happens when Robert encounters Edith Sorrel at the local Old People's Home, in a link-up project with the school. He learns that Edith lost her son, when he was about the same age as Robert, when he fell from the window of a top floor flat. She asks Robert to go and look at the flat for her. When he discovers that the flat is in a now derelict and boarded up house in the town, he finds the courage to enter and explore.

I don't know who's moving my legs but I'm going towards that open door. Walking fast now, past the dirty Sainsbury's bag and the length of washing line, past the patch of scorched earth where someone has lit a fire. Of course if the door is open there will be people. Squatters, vagrants, drug addicts. Who knows? My heart's back at it again. Bang, bang, bang. Like my rib cage is a drum. What am I going to tell these people? That I've come because some batty old lady asked me to? I should be creeping, slithering along the walls like they do in the movies. But I'm not. I'm walking with the boldness of the bit-part guy who gets shot. Somebody screams, and for a moment I think it's me. But actually it's a seagull, wheeling overhead.

Many consequences flow from this. Niker discovers that there is a lot more to Robert than he might have given him credit for. And Robert's relationship with Edith deepens into an urgent desire to resolve an unspoken grief in Edith's life before she dies. Emotional maturity produces many benefits. Robert is also able to come to terms with his inadequate relationship with his father.

This is a compelling story with a surprising amount of drama and suspense. It is a very positive and satisfying read. Highly recommended!

What can I read next?

If you enjoyed this rather intense story about a young person with a difficult life, you might like to look at this one by David Klass:

Or you could have a look at this one by Malachy Doyle:

Gillian Cross writes about young people at school in difficulty. Have a look at these:

And Michael Coleman has written two very convincing stories about difficulties at school. Have a look at these:

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