Book review

Tag by Michael Coleman (1998)

A confession. This is a story of the people behind the graffiti. Why Motto first took up the spray can. Why Pete went along with him. How the Sun Crew became involved. How it was all bound to end in tears. You can feel the events get out of hand as Pete tells his story in his own words, in his own stammer.

Motto and Pete have always been friends for as long as Pete can remember. Toddlers playing in adjoining gardens. Nursery school. Big school. Motto is sharp as a razor. Clever. Always at the centre of attention - and he works hard to keep it that way, dreaming up jokes, games, any kind of spectacle. Pete is slow, has special lessons at school to help him keep up.

Motto's mum lowered her voice as she spoke to him, but not enough. I heard what she said quite clearly. 'Mark, listen to me. Pete's a nice friend but he's a bit - well, not very clever. Not as clever as you. Understand?'
'I think so.'
'What I mean is, he looks up to you. He'll do anything you say. So - well, just remember that.'

So there's a loyalty between these two which goes back years. They work well together. Motto needs the adulation. Pete enjoys the excitement. And each boy in a different way, has a difficult background which the other perceives and sympathizes with. Pete's father is killed when Pete is nine. He dies a hero's death, but he dies all the same. Motto's father relates to the office better than the family and his mother prefers to do charitable work for the really needy. You can understand, then, why Motto should go in for attention-seeking on a grand scale, and why Pete should accompany him.

It was a great idea, to tag the school bus. Everyone at school would be able to see what they had done and talk about it. It took quite a lot of planning and enterprise, and when it came to it, it was quite scary too. It's just a pity that Motto and Pete were a bit naive.

Shiner sighs, as if he can't believe how dumb Motto and I had been. 'And you'd never heard about turf wars - tagging on another crew's patch? You hadn't thought what that could lead to?'
'No. N-never. Not until they hit us ...'

You get the drift now. The Sun Crew can't have Motto and Pete tagging their patch. But it's not enough for Motto to stay away or go and tag somewhere else. He wants to join the Sun Crew.

He stepped in front of me, stopping me dead, as if he needed to make me concentrate on what he was saying. 'Can't you see, Pete?' he said. 'They're like a family ...'
His voice tailed off. Then he said it. So quietly, so matter-of-fact.
'I want to join them. I want to be in a family like that.'

Read it for yourself, and see what happens. I was glued to the book myself.

What can I read next?

Michael Coleman has written another brilliant book about school life, bullying:

  • Weirdo's War

You might like to look at this one by Gillian Cross, also about those who write the graffiti:

  • Tightrope

Also this very powerful one by Gillian Cross about bullying:

I think you might enjoy this one by Robert Swindells, about a protection racket at a school:

And Malorie Blackman has written about bullying at school. Have a look at this one:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

Tag features in these lists: