A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
I had the huge pleasure of Chairing at the Edinburgh Book Festival again this year. It’s my absolute favourite thing to do…I just wish it was on all year round. (Although I’m not sure my liver would agree.) One of the best things is hearing authors talk about books I’ve read and loved so I’m going to focus on those for the next wee while.
I was delighted to Chair Phil Earle this year because he’s already one of my favourite YA authors and it was a real privilege to see him talk about Heroic to an audience of rapt teenagers. It was extraordinary to see the kids sit forward in their seats, leaning closer to pay attention to his talk.
Heroic begins with an emotional poem called ‘The Brothers’ by Michael Wagg. It tells of two boys talking about battlefields and heroes and swapping stickers. And it beautifully sets the scene for the novel, which is about two brothers and battlefields at home and abroad and about being each others hero, but who sadly have outgrown just swapping stickers.
Jammy and Sonny are brothers who live on the Ghost estate. It’s not a particularly pleasant place to live, but it’s home and they’re loyal to the Ghost and its own particular laws. Sonny also has to stick to the commandments Jammy has laid down to keep his younger brother out of trouble. Because Jammy is out of the country, fighting in Afghanistan and Sonny is a bit of a hothead and without his big brother to keep an eye on him he drifts into battles of his own. But when Jammy comes home, Sonny can see that things are not as they used to be, something has changed his brother and it’s up to him to become the hero.
Heroic is an absolutely wonderful book. It’s stuffed full of real characters, alive on the page. The interaction and banter between the friends, the brothers, the kids and the adults is stunning to read. Phil Earle has an absolute gift for writing dialogue.
Heroic is set both at home and abroad, with scenes skipping from the bleak, desolate streets of the council estate to the searing hot wreckage of Afghanistan. The two situations are so well drawn in parallel. The similarities in environment, the trouble both brothers find themselves in and most importantly the strength each draws from their friends and comrades.
This is a powerful, evocative novel. It’s strength really lies in the heart warming relationships between the characters, in their struggle to do the right thing despite being dealt some harsh circumstances. Despite Heroic’s traumatic setting there is a lot of humour and a huge amount of warmth in the way the characters support and look out for each other.
If you have a teenager in the household who has decided that books aren’t for them, I would advise leaving Heroic lying around for a couple of days, somewhere they can find it. I can pretty much guarantee it’ll surreptitiously vanish.