Review Blog

Sep 19 2011

We can be heroes by Catherine Bruton

cover image

Egmont, 2011. ISBN 9781405256520.
(Age: 12+) Recommended. This novel is an engaging combination of action, adventure, humour and emotion. It describes the impact of 9/11 on modern day Britain, as seen through the eyes of a young boy. Ben is a quiet, observant boy who copes with life's mysteries by making lists of questions (often quite poignant) and drawing cartoons (often quite funny). Ben's dad died in the 9/11 attacks and his grieving mother is in hospital, so Ben is spending the summer holidays with his father's grandparents. Here he meets Priti, who is everything that Ben is not: loud, outspoken and fearless. She is the youngest daughter of the Pakistani family who live next door to Ben's grandparents. Within a few days they are joined by Ben's angry cousin, Jed and then the fun really begins.
Soon the three youngsters are caught up in the adventure of spying on Priti's brother, Shakeel, who they suspect (on very flimsy evidence) of being a terrorist bomber, and trying to hide the unsuitable romantic liaison of Priti's eldest sister, from her hot headed brother, Mik. But what seems like a game to the children suddenly takes a more sinister turn when adults become involved. Only then can the true heroes emerge.
This is where the author plays a deft hand - allowing the consequences of racism, and the fear of terrorism, to play out with a finely balanced blend of humour, horror and high drama. The children gradually realise that it is easy to see terror where there is none and to use anger to hide grief.   
Ben, Priti and Jed are all about 12 or 13 years of age, so the readership of the novel is likely to be the same age. The author has certainly given young readers plenty to think about whilst also charming them with an action-packed adventure story. Young readers will especially enjoy Ben's comic at the end of the novel which helps to lessen the sombre tone of the story's end. It also allows the children to finally be the heroes they yearned to be!
Deborah Marshall

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