It’s been a while since this column discussed a book for the “seniors” in the Under 15 category. John Boyne’s book is a novella, not a novel. It is one in a series of Quick Reads that is a World Book Day initiative. It lives up to the Quick Reads tag line: “Bite-sized books by best-selling writers and well-known personalities for people who want a short, fast-paced read.”
The Dare: By John Boyne, Black Swan, 103 pages, Rs97.
That The Dare is a fast-paced, bite-sized story is proved as soon as you turn the first page. And there will be hardly any argument that Boyne is a best-selling writer—he wrote The Boy in the Striped Pajamas two years ago. Despite the controversies it stoked, Boyle’s story, set in Nazi-occupied Poland, did set the counters ringing and was made into a feature film as well.
The Dare is far removed from Striped Pajamas, but it is equally poignant, moving and thought-provoking. It is set in a small town in Britain. Danny Delaney is trying his best to cope during a boring summer holiday when something unexpected happens, throwing his family’s life out of gear.
It starts one summer evening when 12-year-old Danny returns from playing football—with his friend Luke Kennedy—and finds that his mother, Rachel, hasn’t returned from work. Little Danny isn’t worried too much at first but as nightfall descends, both father and son anxiously start making calls to find out where she is.
When Rachel arrives many hours after her scheduled time, she is accompanied by two police officers who explain to Danny’s father that her car hit Andy Maclean, a young boy, who was running across the road. The boy goes into a coma as the doctors fight to save his life.
All the evidence points to the fact that it was an accident, but Rachel goes into a self-accusatory mode and withdraws into herself. This casts a pall of gloom—and a long shadow—over the family life that the Delaneys are used to. Meanwhile, Luke’s mother and her boyfriend (Boyne doesn’t pussyfoot about life and relationships as they are today) take in Danny for a night while his parents are sorting out the problems with the law.
All the characters try to cope with the “tragedy” as best they can. Despite the strain that is tearing them apart, they try to live as normally as they can. Viewed from the perspective of a teenager-to-be, Boyne brings out the sensitivity that, while tearing at the fabric of family life, also brings it together.
Danny’s interaction and conversations with Luke are typically those of pre-adolescence issues. Andy’s parents’ impotent anger when the police refuse to arrest Rachel for the accident—Danny is listening in—foxes the young boy. His father, in his own way, tries to bulldoze Rachel back to normalcy. He finally loses his cool when Rachel, wallowing in self-pity, misses her son’s birthday get-together. Luke, meanwhile, has his own set of problems dealing with the man who has taken his father’s place.
During the tense days, Danny meets Sarah, Andy’s sister, who has a strange tale to tell him. The accident, she reveals, is not Rachel’s fault. It is hers. It resulted from a childish game that her brother and she had thought up. That is how the book gets its name.
If you haven’t picked it up yet, Boyne’s new book makes for a compelling read.
The writer is the editor of Heek, a children’s magazine.
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