The publishers Barrington Stoke are responsible for a wide range of books that are created to be accessible to all readers including those with dyslexia or children and teens sometimes described as reluctant readers. Sometimes “reluctant” readers are simply young people who have not yet found that right book that sets them off on their reading path. What makes Barrington Stoke so successful in what they do is that they select accomplished authors who create stunning, shorter stories that are equally as involving as lengthy novels. Their books are just as likely to appeal to fluent and enthusiastic readers as to their target market.
As a primary school librarian I have tended to concentrate on their books for younger ages but now I have the opportunity to read some of their titles for teens. Lark, the final story in a hard hitting YA series by Anthony McGowan, about brothers Nicky and Kenny was published in January. This was on my wish list but first I wanted to read the three earlier novellas Brock, Pike and Rook now published in one volume as The Truth of Things. So this weekend I started reading… I didn’t stop. Stunning spare writing, realistic characters and stories that are unsentimental but emotionally affecting combine to create an outstanding and unforgettable read.
When we meet the two brothers their life is hard, their mum has left, their dad is drinking and in trouble with the police and Nicky has to look after his elder brother, Kenny, who is learning disabled from birth. Nicky is also struggling to deal with poverty at home and dealing with bullies at school. One early morning the boys witness the senseless killing of an innocent animal and together the two boys salvage something from this horror and gradually life changes for them in ways that they never expected. The four stories then follow Nicky and Kenny through the coming months and years as they mature and develop and their family situation changes. Despite the bleakness we see how the boys’ father gradually pulls himself back from the brink, how Nicky deals with first love and watch Kenny as he finds courage. The relationship between Nicky and the blunt but very endearing Kenny is at the heart of the storyline and Kenny himself is a wonderful character with his love for his brother, animals, stories and the truth of things.
Nicky’s voice is a powerful one and as a parent I obviously found this affecting in a different way but Nicky’s character is wonderfully drawn and Anthony McGowan has captured that mixture of awkwardness and bravado of some teenage boys so well. There is a lot of love in these stories. Not the romantic, hearts and flowers, sentimental type but the steady, dependable, practical, often unspoken love found in families that makes all the difference when coping with what may seem like insurmountable difficulties.
There is a respect and understanding of nature running through these books that provides the link between both the stories and the themes contained in them. It is partly the care the boys show for living creatures that helps ultimately to save them too. The parallels between the creatures after which the stories are named and the content of them is cleverly written and some of the descriptions of the natural environment and its inhabitants are breathtaking.
So my reading weekend was one of many emotions. There were moments were I gasped aloud, several when I couldn’t stop the tears falling even though I tried and a couple when the hairs on the back of my neck tingled. Incredibly there is also a fair bit of humour underlying almost all the two boys do. I am so glad that I have read these and can now well understand the acclaim they have already received.
All four of these wonderful stories are uncompromising in their use of language and events so these books are part of the Barrington Stoke collection for those aged 13+ . The individual novellas have a reading age of approximately 9 years but the collection of three would require more reading stamina and would therefore be suitable for more confident readers.
Thank you very much to Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for sending me my copies.