Review Blog

Nov 02 2011

The Outcasts by John Flanagan

cover image

Brotherband: Book 1. Random House, 2011. ISBN: 978174664492.
(Ages 10+) Highly recommended. Sixteen year old Hal, with half Skandian and half Araluen parentage, has never been quite accepted by his fellow villagers. With his father having died on a raid when Hal was only a baby, the boy and his mother befriend Thorn, a drunkard who had lost a hand on a sea voyage many years before. They give Thorn's life purpose and he becomes something of a surrogate father to the boy, assisting him with his creative pursuits. Whilst watching Stig, one of his peers, Hal rescues him when he falls into the ocean, thus beginning a solid friendship. When Hal buys a partly finished boat from his boss, he sets himself the task of completing it with some modifications.
On reaching the age of sixteen, boys are sent off to do Brotherband training. Here they are to learn 'tactics, weapon skills, seamanship, ship handling and navigation.' They are broken into groups in a manner similar to choosing teams for school sport . . . someone is always unwanted and left until last. By default, he and Stig are part of a smaller gang of boys, un-wanted by the popular boys. When these misfits are announced to be members of the third team, Hal is elected as 'skirl', the leader of the group. Thus begins their battle to defeat the other Brotherbands with their popular leaders in an effort to become the victors for the year.
Following a very similar formula to the successful Ranger's Apprentice series, this title, with its different band of characters and focus on the sea, works equally as well. There is a certain amount of humour to balance the more serious themes of being the 'underdog', acceptance of others, valuing diversity and team work, loyalty, resilience and creative problem solving. The book could be used as a comparative text alongside Emily Rodda's Rowan of Rin or Sandy Fussell's Samurai Kids series. Each title could be used to analyse the elements of the hero's journey. Both Fussell and Flanagan include multiple characters with disabilities, each of whom uses their skills in unexpected ways to overcome the difficulties they face. The Outcasts is a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging title.
Jo Schenkel

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