Sunday 21 August 2011
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
I should start by saying that I wanted to read this book because I teach in an area very similar to the one Harri is growing up in, inner city London with large numbers of recent immigrants and some gang culture. Other reviewers have complained about the flippant way Harri discusses violence and accepts it as part of life, but for me it rang true. His childlike acceptance of it was one of the most disturbing parts of the book - he didn't even know that there was more out there, that he deserved better.
I also enjoyed Harri's slang (I wanted to go around afterwards saying 'Advise yourself!' and 'Asweh') and the way Kelman wrote his inner monologue, forever jumping from one topic to the next. One moment he is missing his baby sister in Ghana, the next he is considering what superpower he would like, and the next he is running away from a gang initiation. And I think that is what an eleven year old's inner monologue would be like.
In fact, I loved the whole thing. I enjoyed seeing the world through someone else's eyes, and grew very attached to Harri, his sister Lydia (who made the wrong friends), and their mother, working all hours to pay off her debts and therefore not able to be around much. I know from experience there are countless children in London in the same position as Harri, and for that reason it was a powerful read for me. I couldn't put it down and couldn't stop thinking about it afterwards. I would really recommend this one.
Verdict: A powerful read about growing up around gang culture in inner-city London.
Score: 5 out of 5