Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman


About the Book


Newly arrived from Ghana with his mother and older sister, eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku lives on the ninth floor of a block of flats on an inner-city housing estate. The second best runner in the whole of Year 7, Harri races through his new life in his personalised trainers – the Adidas stripes drawn on with marker pen – blissfully unaware of the very real threat all around him.
With equal fascination for the local gang – the Dell Farm Crew – and the pigeon who visits his balcony, Harri absorbs the many strange elements of his new life in England: watching, listening, and learning the tricks of urban survival.

But when a boy is knifed to death on the high street and a police appeal for witnesses draws only silence, Harri decides to start a murder investigation of his own. In doing so, he unwittingly endangers the fragile web his mother has spun around her family to try and keep them safe.
A story of innocence and experience, hope and harsh reality, Pigeon English is a spellbinding portrayal of a boy balancing on the edge of manhood and of the forces around him that try to shape the way he falls.


I hate to say it, but I read this book because of its striking cover!  I like to think I choose a book based on the story, the writing level and whether or not I will enjoy it.  This one was different because I picked up the book thinking “Gosh, this cover is amazing!” and after reading the first page while browsing an ExclusiveBooks store, I had to have it.

 It took me a while to get into Harrison Opoku’s head, an eleven year old Ghanaian boy who has just immigrated to the UK.  Harri is an extremely lovable character from page one, the innocence of his age takes over and the read can barely begin to wonder where the story is going as Harri twists you up in a new language (Jargon and slang that only children his age can fathom) and weird characters that he is only starting to understand.  Harri is a runner and the second best, at that, in his grade and as he occupies himself solely on his new trainers and school, Harri’s surroundings are stripped away slowly for the reader to grasp.

When a young boy in Harri’s school is knifed down in front of a store, Harri and Dean are adamant they are going to find the killer.  As their investigation skills become sharper by collecting fingerprints with sellotape and using a neighbour’s dog as a sniffer dog – the reader is exposed to something a little deeper than Harri can describe.  The more Dean and Harri uncover the more they unravel the “safe” world Harri’s mother has built around him to keep him safe.

The echoes of Emma Dongohue’s Room and Mark Hadden’s The Curious Incident of the Doginthe Night Time scream through this novel that Stephen Kelman has so perfectly constructed!

I would recommend this read to anyone and hopefully you will sigh at Harri’s innocence and gasp at the very last page like I did. 

See our Review on Women 24 

Long listed for the Man Booker Prize 2011, see Press Release here


About the Author

Stephen Kelman was born in Luton in 1976. After finishing his degree he worked variously as a warehouse operative, a careworker, and in marketing and local government administration. He decided to pursue his writing seriously in 2005, and has completed several feature screenplays since then.

Pigeon English is his first novel

- Review by Kelly Ansara

Don't forget to tweet Tarryn & Kelly with your thoughts on this review (or anything bookish)


BookGeek said...

I've heard of this book before and may have seen it in my local bookstore a few times. I think the times I passed up on it were when I wasn't feeling the 11-yr-old POV thing, but I may have to just go ahead and get it! Sounds great.

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