Friday, 23 July 2010

Review: Dead Boy Talking by Linda Strachan + Author Interview

Publisher: Strident
Format: Paperback
Released: June 15th, 2010
Grade rating: B

Amazon summary:

Josh has 25 minutes left to live. Lying alone in a pool of blood, Josh has not much time to think. Yesterday he stabbed his best mate, and now it has happened to him. But there are questions he cannot get out of his head. Like, how did he get into this mess? Will anyone find him in time? Will his girlfriend forgive him, and what really happened to his older brother? As his life slips away, the events of the last 24 hours start to look very different.


Dead Boy Talking is another YA book to explore teenage gang culture and knife crime. It looks at the before and after, and poses many questions relevant to today's society. I'll never fully understand why teens feel the need to fight and kill each other over something that could be resolved, but it happens, and it's a great shame.

Strachan's narrator, Josh, tells his story from two time frames: the 24 hours leading up to his stabbing, and what look to be his last 25 minutes after being left for dead. As you'd expect, it's emotional stuff, though it's all over very quickly. I would have liked a higher page count with more depth, and more chance to get to know everyone properly. It does work well as a short book too, and is definitely straight to the point. Seeing events unfold over a shorter period of time gives that sense of realism and, in the end I felt like I was there myself, counting down the minutes with Josh.

Dead Boy Talking is one of those books that should find its way on to school reading lists. Not as an example of social commentary, but rather as a lesson to anyone thinking about carrying, or using, a knife. If they read Strachan's take on things, I'm sure they'd at least think twice about what they were doing, as well as the consequences of their actions. Eventually all this real-life violence has to end, and I just hope it's soon.


Q&A with Linda Strachan

Dead Boy Talking deals with knife crime, which is sadly becoming more prevalent in British society. Why did you choose to focus on this particular act of violence?

Knives are everywhere whether they are used for everyday reasons, in a kitchen or as tools, and young people carry knives for a variety of different reasons - perhaps for bravado or peer pressure as well as the small minority who carry them as weapons with criminal intent. But a knife attack can be sudden, unexpected and often deadly.I am sure many teenagers don't really believe that they will ever become the victim or that they would use the knife they carry. I wanted to look at how situations can develop and bad choices escalate the problem until the result is not what the young people in question had ever imagined.

Is Josh's story inspired by, or based on, any real-life events?

Not any one specific event but it was inspired by newspaper and TV reports of fatal stabbings. Reading and listening to these stories of teenagers having been stabbed and lying on their own until someone finds them became the first trigger for the story. I started to think about how it must have felt, and the line 'In 25 minutes I will be dead' became the first line of the book. It all followed from there.

Dead Boy Talking takes place over a 24-hour time frame, and successfully jumps between the past and present. As a writer, how difficult is it to maintain the plot momentum when using this style?

It seemed the natural way to tell the story. I wanted to let the reader understand why it had happened, to follow the characters in the time leading up to Josh lying there. In some ways it was easy to maintain the momentum because I kept going back to Josh and being reminded that time was running out.

Your previous book, Spider, also dealt with a very realistic event in the form of a car crash. Do you think realism in YA fiction is gaining popularity? If yes, why?

I think we all want different kinds of books at different times and sometimes we need escapism, but not all the time. Realism in YA fiction gives them a chance to experience dangerous situations, feel the excitement without putting themselves in danger. But you have to be very straight and honest, and to tell the story as it is, without putting adult opinions or warnings into it. I feel it is important not to underestimate the audience and not ever talk down to them. We all want to see ourselves somewhere in the books we read and realistic YA fiction gives young people that opportunity, to explore possible consequences of their actions, consequences that might have never occurred to them..

Can you tell us anything about your current project?

I am currently writing a book about how we perceive others, often making snap decisions based on what we see, what people wear or what we have heard about a person or a group of people, especially a group of young people. I wanted to look at how actions based on this kind of misconception can lead a to disaster.


asamum said...

I really like the sound of this book. Becky reviewed it earlier,I think you are right about the school reading list, it sounds so topical and thought provoking.
Great review & interview. Am loving the sound of the new book. Thanks Jenny :D

Kelli (I'd So Rather Be Reading) said...

Great review and interview. I have not heard of this one until now.

Rhiana said...

I'm with you and asamum. Maybe the fact it's short will make it more accessible to reluctant readers too?

Becky said...

I really loved the fact that it was short. I found that it had an explosive level of impact for that reason. Really interesting to hear another viewpoint though. I'm intrigued by the new book Linda is writing!

Linda Strachan said...

Thanks for the great review and interesting interview questions, Jenny.
Delighted to get the comments about the new book - no pressure then!!?! Better get it finished.