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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.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Review: Waiting for Gonzo by Dave Cousins

Teen realism with humour and heart: strongly recommended for teen boys and girls

Dave Cousins has done it again! I was so impressed by his 15 Days Without a Head, in which he manages to portray life for a teen forced to take on responsibilities for his alcoholic mum in an entertaining and emotionally warm way. Here again we have a teen boy centre stage as his family 'goes through some stuff'.

Oz is a great narrator and main character. He tells us his story in the format of a letter to 'Gonzo', whose identity becomes clearer as the book progresses, using the past tense as he's looking back at a string of events and evaluating their impact on his life as he goes. This structure allows the writer to invest relatively minor events with considerable importance with the benefit of hindsight. I particularly like how Oz manages to see all the things that have happened to his family as essentially his fault: a chain of events instigated by a fairly minor act of vandalism. His sense of responsibility and ability to admit to his mistakes are endearing, and also show how much he's matured through the events described in the book: the Oz looking back and contextualising everything that's happened is much more self-aware and thoughtful than the Oz drawing a moustache in an inappropriate place at the start of the book.

It's easy to see that Oz is a good guy deep down, if a bit hapless and - at least initially - rather selfish (what teen isn't at times?). He's in a new and very unfamiliar area - a city boy transplanted to the sticks, starting at a new school where he doesn't know the social rules and norms yet and desperately wants to make friends. Music is very important to Oz as he struggles to fit in in an unfamiliar environment, and some of the songs mentioned in the story have been created especially and can be listened to at the author's website. It's a brilliant idea, and really helps to get into Oz's world.

Dave Cousin's gift is the ability to inject humour into difficult and sad situations without reducing their emotional impact or showing any sign of not taking them seriously. I think he's a particularly strong writer for boys, who may (unfortunately, in our society) find it difficult to pick up books which emphasise relationships and emotions above all. Those are the very things his writing deals with, but wrapped up in a witty and lively package which makes the emotional angles are more subtle. At the same time, his writing isn't what I would call 'laddish' - it doesn't exclude girls and the humour isn't absurdly silly or overly bodily-function-focused like you see in more cynically-targeted 'boys books'. His characters are, above all, entirely believable and relatable, and that's the key to the warmth of his writing, I think.

Overall (as I think is fairly obvious!) I'd recommend this book very highly to 12 year olds and above. I'll certainly be recommending it in schools.

From the back cover:

Stranded in Nowheresville?
 - check

Stalked by Isobel, the school psycho?
 - check

Befriended by a kid who dresses up as a hobbit in his spare time?
 - check

Oz likes a laugh. It's not his fault some people have no sense of humour. But when a joke backfires, it triggers a chain of events that messes things up BIG TIME.

****************
Publishing 7 March by Oxford University Press
Find more information at Goodreads
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending me a proof copy for review

1 comment:

  1. It looks like you love Dave's writing as much as we do Beth - thanks for the fantastic review!

    Dave has just written a blog post over on our blog which you might like to read: http://blog.oxfordchildrens.co.uk/2013/03/01/the-word-tin-where-stories-come-from/

    ReplyDelete

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