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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons

Title: An Act of Love
Author: Alan Gibbons
Publisher: Orion
Publishing: 2 June 2011
Genre: Teen Thriller

Find it at Amazon UK

The blurb says ...
Seven-year-old Chris and Imran are sworn blood brothers.


Ten years on they are treading separate paths. The spectre of terrorism has wrecked their friendship. It has changed their lives and could even end them.


A story of two ordinary boys growing up in an extraordinary time - our time. A time of terror, when atrocities don't just happen in TV reports about people in faraway places.


Rioting, fighting, maiming and killing are happening here, on our doorstep.

My verdict: a thrilling tale that tackles important issues by involving you at a personal level. Highly recommended for teens and adults.

This novel deals with important contemporary issues of identity, terrorism and the radicalisation of teens by means of good honest storytelling. Yes, I appreciated the insight I gained into how kids can be driven into some difficult-to-understand paths, but this is achieved by stealth: what gripped me and pulled me along was the story of a friendship. I simply had to know what would happen between the two boys.

The narration adds a further layer of interest and drama. The novel begins close to the end of the story with an impending disaster, and then unravels through sections covering different times. This is what makes the book a thriller for me: from the very start, we know where it's all heading and the question is how could it get there (and, of course, how is it all going to end?). As well as switching times, the point of view shifts, with first-person narration from Chris and third-person narration from Imran's perspective, as well as occasional sections from other points of view.

If you think this sounds complicated, it is, but it's handled masterfully. Sections are all clearly signalled with headings telling us whose story it is and the date. In the hands of a lesser writer, this complex narrative style could have made the story difficult to follow, but Gibbons' firm grip on all the threads means the telling affords us a closer relationship with both boys, and our sympathies are constantly pulled. Providing both sides with a voice demonstrates the simplicity of the rhetoric on both sides, and allows us to understand in a way that a simpler or more direct style couldn't achieve. Gibbons doesn't preach, lecture or tell us what to think, which is of course always important, but even more so in the YA market.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and believe it has an important contemporary message. Its strength lies in its skilful storytelling, which will allow it to touch its audience and engage them with the issues at a personal level.

Thank you to Orion Books for sending this book for review.

This is my eighth review for the British Books Challenge hosted by The Bookette.

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