Monday, December 01, 2008

48. Squib by Nina Bawden

Squib Book pictureI found this one as well in Winnipeg. When I was a kid, we used to read a lot of British children's books, like The Box of Delights, Swallows and Amazons and even a ton of Enid Blighton (which I guess was looked down upon by certain people). These books always seemed to have a dark side to them and this became more explicit when I started reading the books aimed at adolescents from England. I remember in particular one that was called The Cage or The Cave or something like that which starts out with a guy waking up in a dungeon having no memory of who he is. He slowly meets some other people who are there also missing their memory. The book is about them exploring the place, finding out what is going on and who they are. It turns out they were all juvenile criminals and the place was an experiment in psychological manipulation and rehabilitation. I remember it being quite dark.

So when I saw the back blurb for Squib, it definitely sounded like it fit into that genre:

'Who said Squib was unhappy?' said Robin. 'I mean, it's not as if he was black and blue all over or covered in blood. You can't go tearing off to the police or something and say "Look, there's this kid in the park, we don't know who he is or where he lives or anything about him at all, but he's shy and he's got odd eyes and a bit of a bruise on one leg."'

But Kate couldn't leave it at that. She simply had to go on finding out about the odd, frightened little boy, until she found herself in the most terrifying situation of her life.

I'm pretty sure I've read some of Nina Bawden's books when I was a kid. My sister remembers them and she was a pretty popular writer. So it's quite likely they were in our school library.

Squib struck me on two levels. The reality it presents is class-conscious and tough. People are pathetic and lost and desparate. But it's all viewed through the eyes of the children protagonists, to whom a lot of it is quite mysterious and exciting. The older boy who smokes and is a member of a bike gang comes off as really cool and kind of frightening to the kids, but we see that he is actually a bit of a loser among his peers and his home life is quite depressing. And it works on both those levels. You get caught up in the exploration and mystery of the forest around the old folks home while also feeling sympathetic to the lost souls that live there. This realism, is I think, the result of Bawden taking the children's perspective seriously and treating it with respect. This is something we don't get as much in North America (and perhaps less and less in these modern times) where everything is sugar-coated and the bad stuff hidden away.

A short, engaging and honest little story. I'd recommend this for young readers who want to move onto things with a bit more depth and bite.


Unknown said...

Sounds like a good novel to have on the shelf for the kids.

I always loved the British children's books that I was given as a kid - Moonfleet, Swallows and Amazons, etc. They had a great spirit of adventure with just enough danger to keep you reading.

Buzby said...

I have started buying the Enid series of books for my nieces, they love them. I remember reading these books and I was also struck by their dark side even when I was reading them back then.

Anonymous said...

She writes a lot of books for adults. Try the KM Peyton Pennington series. They are excellent.