Sleeping with the Blackbirds by Alex Pearl

513bptgqn3l-1Please note: this book is classified as ‘YA’ (Young Adult), which is an unusual review genre for this website.

It may help comprehension of subsequent comments and observations if the official synopsis is set out first.

About Sleeping with the Blackbirds:

Eleven-year-old schoolboy, Roy Nuttersley has been dealt a pretty raw deal. While hideous parents show him precious little in the way of love and affection, school bullies make his life a misery. So Roy takes comfort in looking after the birds in his suburban garden, and in return the birds hatch a series of ambitious schemes to protect their new friend.

As with the best-laid plans, however, these get blown completely off course – and as a result the lives of both Roy and his arch tormentor, Harry Hodges are turned upside down. While Harry has a close encounter with God, Roy embarks on a voyage of discovery that draws in and impacts on everyone around him, including the local police, his headmaster and the national media. Where will it all end, and will life ever be quite the same for Roy Nuttersley?

The story contains a vast mixture of emotions and experiences and does an excellent job of showing how bad parenting may impact upon a child. The reader is given a sense of; how a child may feel; how they will try to find ways for dealing with their situation; the sorrow they experience when little comforts are destroyed or removed by the very people they are doing their best to cope with. The reader cannot help sympathising with the protagonist; Roy Nuttersley. They will admire his character and ‘secretly’ hope and encourage him to succeed. They may well find themselves laughing, cheering, crying and jumping for joy as Roy faces the vast range of experiences and challenges which assail him.

As the synopsis indicates, besides having to cope with his parents, Roy is also bullied. The emotions accompanying these experiences: fear; despair; acceptance of the ‘inevitable’; seeking refuge/escape while knowing it is unlikely to be achieved, are clearly brought out. The accounts are vivid, not only causing the reader to commiserate but to also become enraged with the bullies, particularly Harry Hodges, the ring leader. The author attempts to balance the facts by also delving into the bullies’ backgrounds, seeking to understand and explain their behaviour. This is an intelligent approach that is rarely seen and should be appreciated. There is no attempt to turn this into an exegesis on the subject; the information is simply included as a, relevant, part of the tale. Evidently the author’s aim is to help his own children, for whom the book was originally written, understand the world they would be living in as well as to seek to understand and empathise with other people’s life conditions. Naturally, an unsympathetic background is never a valid excuse but such understandings help put matters into context. The author also shows how an act of kindness, when least expected or deserved, may alter someone’s perspective. The story progresses at a good pace and, despite having moral lessons discreetly imbedded within, remains entertaining throughout. There is no attempt or intent to labour moral points or turn the book into a lecture.

In addition to the ‘factual’ accounts there is a fantasy element to this story: The Birds. The protagonist’s fascination with and kindness to them results in a camaraderie, though he may not recognise it. The author, whether an ornithologist or not, draws out the various bird’s reactions and behaviours in a very entertaining manner. The reader will undoubtedly laugh at some of their antics and cheer them on as they already have Roy. The lengths they go to in helping their friend, and themselves, are sometimes quite hilarious. In all parts the author paints a vivid picture that is easy to imagine. Is there ultimate success? The reader will have to find out for themselves.

The ending is unexpected and simply adds another delightful element to the book. It would be unfair to potential readers to give further details. Whether or not ‘YA’ is a reader’s normal genre most, young or old, will enjoy this story to some degree. It is well written and well told.

Four stars (4*).

The book is available in paperback and as an e-book from Amazon.

Amazon.com                  Amazon.co.uk


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