Friday, 4 October 2013

3D Review - Brock – Spotlight on Writing.

Anthony McGowan’s Brock is a chilling and gritty read for teens. It is refreshing step away from the lion’s share of YA literature which centres on middle class teenagers focusing instead on Nicky and Kenny from a disadvantaged family. The voice is strong, tough and yet sympathetic and has an instant impact of a child that has been forced to grow up before his time.

Reading Brock transported me back to anther read, one I read as part of the school GCSE syllabus that have a similar gut wrenchingly tough voice and a protagonist from a working class background; A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. In our interview with Anthony early this week (press here to read) he sighted A Kestrel for a Knave as a strong influence for Brock, and on his web site (press here) he lists the film adaptation KES as one of his favourite films. This indeed shines through, yet Brock is distinct in its uniqueness.

A Kestrel for a Knave was published in 1968 and follows Billy, showing his relationship with his abusive half-brother, his disinterested mother living in the hard and desolate north, with his kestrel Kes being his only friend. The influences on Brock are clear, with Brock protagonist Nicky coming from a broken no-income home, but Anthony bring his tale in to the twenty first century.

A Modern Family is just as likely to be a single parent where it’s the father present, Brock reflects this, Nicky and Kenny’s mother walked out on them, and their father is unemployed, and in trouble with the law possibly facing prison. With their father being despondent it’s Nicky who steps up and takes on the parental role, looking out for himself and his brother Kenny. Whereas in A Kestrel for a Knave the sibling relationship is based on abuse and hate, Brock’s is bases on love, and tackles the difficulties subject of learning difficulties.

Kenny has learning difficulties, due to oxygen starvation when he was born. Nicky’s view on Kenny is touching, and is a real testament to Anthony's skilful writing.

“…he [Kenny] isn’t always trying to work out the angles, or how to stitch you up. He thinks other people are as kind as he is, and he only has one idea at a time…. I think ‘simple’ is a better and kinder and truer than talking about ‘difficulties’ or ‘disabilities’”

Nicky’s affection and parental nature is event throughout the book, with him always looking out for Kenny making sure he’s wearing warm clothes and has been fed, although the frustrations are also clear. Anthony has explored the issues of learning difficulties, single parent Families, and child careers seamlessly without turning the story into a heavy Issue’s book.

As a writer I'm always amazed about how other authors weave their stories juxtaposing narrative, action, emotion and description. What I found particularly intriguing in Brock is the sparse character descriptions. This makes it easy for a challenged reader, as coming away from the action to read a beautiful description of a person can make you lose the story thread and put down the book (and after all in real life you don’t look at someone you know and describe them in your inner-monologue!) In Brock Anthony, has skilfully adopted the Fairy Tale method of describing someone with a Name. Yes a NAME can be powerful enough to evoke an image in your mind, Sleeping Beauty, Ugly Step Sisters. In Brock, The human character names all congers up the right image especially in combination with the nougats of information that Nicky provides, like Jezbo (remarkably similar to ASBO) who has two dogs called…

“Satan and Slag. That told you all you needed to know about Jezbo.”

Brock is a sophisticated story written in an obtainable way for challenged reader that deals with difficult subjects whilst managing to deliver a happy ending that inspires hope. Despite it’s subject Brock has a reading experience which seem more like a roller-coaster; exciting, and quick and easy, which I strongly urge you read, challenged reader or not.

We have a copy of BROCK to giveaway!
Just e-mail  with your name address and Brock in the subject line to

Good Luck!

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