A hard-hitting yet compelling novel examining what it means to be imprisoned as a child and released under a false identity. Boy A is one of two boys tried and convicted of the murder of another child. Although there are echoes of a trial here in the UK this isn’t in anyway an examination of that crime with much of the book concentrating on what happens next.
Boy A chooses a new name, Jack Burridge, to preserve his anonymity which is part of the terms of his release and then with the help of his ‘uncle’ Terry who had been a member of staff at the home he was first sent to follow his conviction. One of the minimal number of people who know Jack’s true identity. Jack has a job but first he must learn what it is like to live in a world he last left as a child.
The book skips backwards and forwards through the time periods from before Boy A met Boy B to after he left the adult prison with his new name. Each chapter starts with a letter of the alphabet starting with A is for Apple. A Bad Apple. All the way through to Z, which is for Zero in case you are wondering. Just finding the titles that match the content of each chapter must have been a challenge and the sparse language used with its short sentences is perfect for the subject matter. This book feels like a work of art as well as a captivating tale.
Fortunately, given the tough subject matter, the torn sympathies as Boy A’s life is revealed through not just his own eyes, but later on, his father’s too, there are some humorous parts to the book too, most predictably when Jack meets a girl and the attraction is mutual, but most often it is bittersweet humour with a shared moment with a cellmate before his monotonous life rolls onwards.
As we see the horrors Jack endured in prison it is almost odd that my sympathies were highest when he starts his new job and makes friends, and of course a girlfriend Michelle. It is here that it becomes apparent how hard it is to hide your entire life up to a point in your twenties. As Jack becomes close to those around him, his enormous secret puts a boundary up between them as he unwillingly hands out lies to cover the truth.
But nor is this book just about Boy A, Terry and his life at the point where they overlap tells a different story, a fairly normal one of a broken marriage leading to a strained relationship with his own son as he also guards the truth and builds the lies of the life he hopes to see prove that rehabilitation is possible.
The way the stories of Boy A, his parents, Boy B, Terry the psychologist along with Jack’s new friends and his girlfriend all intertwine, create a thought-provoking and compelling read. The book is just the right length the author resisting the urge to brow beat the reader and the ending perfectly pitched. A book to ponder over and in the end marvel at how in the right hands, such an emotive topic can be explored.
Boy A was my thirteenth read in my Mount TBR Challenge 2017, so I’m still on target to hit 36 books purchased before 1 January 2017. I purchased this book in April 2015.