Keith Gray reviews Boy Kills Man by Matt Whyman
Keith Gray starts his review: "Perhaps the greatest paradox for any young person's novelist is that first you have to please the adults. It's the parents, librarians and teachers who are the gate-keepers..." I think you can overplay that argument. Especially in terms of Young Adult books, as opposed to children's books; but even there, the degree to which children's own tastes override adult preferences can be witnessed over and over again if you eavesdrop in the children's section of any bookshop. Aiming to please the adults is definitely not something I would recommend to any children's author.
Gray fears that the subject matter, the provocative book jacket and title, and the age of its protagonists will somehow lead those 'gatekeepers' to block the book from its readership. What does he mean? Does he imagine that it will actually be banned? That librarians will decide not to shelve it but hide it behind the counter; that booksellers will refuse to sell it? That parents will confiscate it if they find their children reading it?
"For a slim volume with this kind of subject matter the story does seem slow in places and not as focused as it could be..." That was not my impression. It's not a gung-ho, episodic action adventure, and (for me) the book's pace seemed perfectly modulated to its subject matter.
Gray's review is broadly positive. "Ignore the appalling title, and inside there is a powerful, affecting novel about lost youth and a sharp evocation of one boy's terrible passage from innocence to experience." Gray is clearly intimating that the book's title is appallingly bad and ill-judged. If the title is 'appalling' it is intentionally so. We are supposed to be appalled by the notion of a boy killing a man.
"Admittedly it's difficult to know which age-group the book was written for..." Not that difficult, surely, unless, as Gray does, you take an overvalued generalisation "Children are aspiring readers - they prefer to read about characters older than themselves..." and apply it to this book with an absurd disregard for common-sense. Gray's argument seeems to be that because the protagonists are 12 years old, no one over that age will want to read it, and that those gatekeepers won't want younger readers of about 10 going anywhere near it. Gray knows perfectly well that Whyman is writing for the same audience as he himself addresses in his young adult fiction.
In the end Gray recommends the book on the basis of its 'issue'. "Why would any right-minded person want to hush an open debate about the dangers of guns in today's society? It's set in Medell?n, but it could quite easily be Manchester."
No, it couldn't.