Publisher: Bantam Press
Released: April 14th, 2011
Grade rating: A
For David Starr, being cast as Nancy in the upcoming school production of Oliver! is quite a shock. But David is up to the challenge. Living in a three-bedroom semi in 1970s' working-class East Dulwich, surrounded by his somewhat colourful relatives, he is bright, smart-mouthed, fanatical about pop music and ready to shine. Rehearsals begin, and he strikes up a friendship with the handsome yet enigmatic Maxie Boswell, captain of the school football team. As their alliance deepens it appears they might become more than just good friends, but that can't be right, can it? Discovering a confidant in empathetic teacher, Hamish McClarnon, and spurred on by his no-nonsense best friend, Frances Bassey, David takes on the school bully, the National Front, and anyone else who threatens to stand in the way of true love.
I hadn't heard of Becoming Nancy until it randomly arrived for review, but immediately I was drawn to it. The cover is eye-catching (plus it looks very YA), and I like novels about LGBT teenagers. This particular story is set in South London in 1979, and centres around David, a 15-year-old music-obsessed boy growing up and coming to terms with his sexuality.
As I mentioned earlier, this book and it's narrative is realistic and truthful. Nothing is censored, so you get highly explicit language and scenes of a sexual nature. Rather than see this as an unnecessary attribute, I think it really helped set the scene and ensured that David's adolescence was of the accurate variety. I have no idea what South London was like in the 70s, but I imagine it was very much like author Ronald has depicted here. There's no sugarcoating to be found, and it was a refreshing change of pace from what I'm used to.
When David first met new boy Maxie, I instantly picked up on their connection. I could see that David was falling head over heels in love with him, but it wasn't until later that their relationship and its path became clear. Rather than spoil anything, I'll just say that things unravel slowly but surely, and I was rooting for these two the whole way through. One boy was more secure in his skin than the other, and that's some of the beauty of the story. Aside from just choosing to highlight the inner turmoil that often accompanies the decision to come out - which Ronald did do, and very well - he also depicted it as a completely normal, everyday thing. Something to be proud of, which of course it is. He sensitively showed both sides of the story, including what it was like for David's parents, and never once took a step back from making David the coolest gay boy I've ever read about.
As well as themes of homosexuality, homophobia and acceptance, Becoming Nancy also touches on racism and what life was like for black people back then. Racist slurs filled playgrounds and pavements, and they had a harder time than I realised. Frances, David's black best friend, was the catalyst for this particular issue, and she was a brilliant character. Ronald wrote about diverse people of all types, and that's one reason why his novel touched me so much. Everyone is represented, no-one is revered, and even the most unexpected people, like Hamish the excellent drama teacher, imparted inspiring words of wisdom like they were going out of fashion.
I could have read this book for days and, as it turned out, it's 336-word page count just wasn't enough. I was genuinely sad there wasn't more to read, and I'm holding out hope for some kind of a sequel. I could have done with a lesser use of certain words I hate and never use, but that's personal to me and my opinions. I have no other complaints at all, and I think it's a debut novel that shouldn't be overlooked.
Becoming Nancy is funny, touching and brave, and I can't say enough good things about it. I'm positive it will be a book I revisit in the future, and I hope other readers feel as uplifted as I did upon turning the final page. If you're at all worried about Ronald's credibility as an author - what with him being a music business insider and friend to the stars - then don't be. He rocked my socks off with this book, and it deserves to be a giant, platinum-selling hit.