Thursday, February 23, 2012
Pigeon English by Stehen Kelman
Prepare to fall in love. Harrison Opuku bursts off the page and into the reader’s heart. Harri is eleven, a recent immigrant from Ghana. He is now living in England with his mother and sister; his father, grandmother and baby sister left behind until the family can afford for them to come also. Living in the projects, Harri is amazed at all the new things he sees. The subway is an amazing item that he can’t quite believe work. He thinks it is bo-styles; the word for the ultimate cool. He is thrilled by remote control cars, cell phones, and new trainers. Harri’s best skill is his running; no one can catch him when he runs. He is the kind of boy who is open to all experiences, taking them in and finding the good in everything around him. Harri tends to like everyone; even the pigeons who flock around the housing projects, occasionally getting inside. Where others see a mess that should be cleared away, Harri sees a friend.
But not everything is positive in Harri’s world. Gangs abound, and as a newcomer, he is tested for inclusion. Daily life is full of insults and casual violence, and Harri is sometimes tempted by these acts. Worst of all, a boy who is the star of the basketball court, is murdered on the streets. The motive? No one knows for sure, maybe even just for his dinner. Harri and his friend Dean decide that they will find the killer. Full of facts gained from CSI shows, they attempt to lift fingerprints and find DNA, sure that they can find the culprit and bring him to justice.
Stephen Kelman has created a character that readers will not soon forget. The language is spot-on for a child growing up in modern England in the housing projects. The language is sometimes rough, and the facts that are commonplace knowledge breathtaking, but through it all, the sweetness of Harri’s personality shines through. Kelman himself grew up in the housing projects of England and worked as a careworker, a warehouse operative, in marketing and in local government administration before focusing on writing. Pigeon English has been nominated for the Booker Prize and readers will not be surprised by that fact. This is a stunning, excellent book; the fact that it is a debut novel is almost unimaginable. This book is recommended for all readers.