Long Reach

Peter Cocks

Walker Books


January 2011

402 pp

stopped at p92

Read On? NO

It’s getting difficult to actually finish some of the books I pick up these days, so I have decided that, rather than ignore them, it would be better to confront the situation and actually record the point at which I give up on a book, for whatever reason.
Sometimes it is the awkwardness of the prose. I was once at a launch party and was discussing with the husband of a fellow reviewer why he did not read children’s books. He picked up a copy of the launch title, opened it at the first page, and seemingly at random pointed at a sentence in the middle of a paragraph. He didn’t need to add any further explanation. It was a horribly worded sentence. Children love a good story and will happily pass over stylistic hiccups if the narrative is sufficiently gripping. This, it seems to me, is taken too much for granted by contemporary children’s authors and their editors. There are too many books that are awkward to read aloud, that have a sentence to stumble over on every page.
Sometimes, I find myself thinking ‘Who on earth is the target readership for this title?’ Largely because of the 17yr old character’s life amid “fast cars and flash women” you are probably talking Y7+ or age 12+ here. But by 14+, if not earlier, surely any adolescent boy (this is male-oriented writing) wanting to read a good thriller will be turning to a fully-blown adult thriller, something a little more savage than Eddie Savage. So the target audience is very narrow indeed, and one notoriously difficult to reach.
It’s a shame because Cocks writes well enough and the book grabs the attention at the start. But it falls hopelessly in between the appetite for true juvenile thriller-writing, as so well served by the likes of Horowitz, and the adult genre. Cocks and his publisher clearly think there is some middle ground waiting to be served. I think they’re wrong. It takes a quirky one-off like Kevin Brooks to really reach the teenage audience with thriller-style material.

2 thoughts on “Long Reach

  1. Gill

    As the publisher of Long Reach I am happy to confirm that this book was truly intended for readers of 14+ and that is why the package is sophisticated and appropriate to the adult genre. And I agree that the ground where one might appeal to teens boy readers can be very narrow as they do, indeed, move to Stephen King in the blink of an eye. But I believe that we have evidence that the readership for Peter’s book is considerably broader than even we had hoped. The reader reviews posted by Waterstone’s are from many in their 20s and 30s and even some 50+, so I really feel that we have published a book which can appeal to 14+ precisely because it has the right adult feel and texture. I also think we have found new ground for fathers and sons to share and am excited by exactly how right we are to have published into this ‘middle ground’. It’s looking very successful from our point of view, I’m pleased to report.

  2. alisondo

    I think this raises a very interesting question : just how (or why) do we define a children’s book? I have read two books recently which illustrate this dilemma: ‘Pigeon English’ by Stephen Kelman, published as an adult book, and ‘ Out of Shadows’ by Jason Wallace, which won the children’s book category of the Costa book prize. Yet of the two, I would more happily recommend ‘Pigeon English’ to, say, a 13 year old than the Jason Wallace, because although the book is violent and the ending tragic, the young protagonist has humour and a passion for life.’Out of Shadows’, on the other hand, is unrelentingly bleak and grim, with virtually no characters who are not either weak or deeply unpleasant. So what makes this a children’s book and ‘Pigeon English’ not? Perhaps the answer is that the distinction is meaningless: they are both powerful books whch could be enjoyed by any one over the age of 13. So perhaps the time has come to abolish the category ‘teenage novel’ altogether? What do you think?

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