Review Blog

Mar 18 2009

Angel Boy by Bernard Ashley

cover image

Francis Lincoln, 2008.
(Ages 9+) Bernard Ashley is such a giant of children's literature that I had high expectations of Angel Boy, but I was in for a disappointment. This is a short novel that may tick boxes regarding certain criteria but fails in its bid to tackle serious issues for a younger audience.
Leonard Boameh is Ghanaian. Bored during the school holidays he decides to sneak out and go on a day trip to Elmina, a tourist destination these days, but once the location of a fort where slaves were imprisoned before being shipped to America. On his journey he meets some English tourists and tags along when they visit the historic fort. However, Leonard is snatched by a group of street children who imprison him and force him to beg for them. Leonard is terrified and desperate to escape.
The sights and sounds of Ghana do not burst into life and Ashley does little to convey any sense of place. The plot regarding the historic fort is clearly intended to educate children about the plight of the slaves, but is too rushed and the description of the fort could have come from a tourist brochure - I felt no connection with slaves torn from their families and facing probable death on the slave ships.
I felt little empathy for Leonard's predicament either, although he is eventually rescued by his father. Great. Bernard Ashley goes through the motions, but I think children will struggle to connect with this story set in a culture that will be completely new to most and which needs a surer touch to make it come alive.
This is an 'issues' novel which is inappropriate for the intended age group. A novel such as Elizabeth Laird's Garbage King tackles the issue of street children in far greater depth, offering a more rounded picture of their situation - but of course it is aimed at older readers. In Angel Boy the street children are just the bad guys - hardly fair. Ashley also hints at young girls falling victim to predatory men - something which readers may pick up on. So you need to be comfortable about fielding potentially awkward questions too!
Ashley does what he can, but in 100 pages it is not enough. Go back to what you are best at Mr Ashley, writing gritty, fast moving novels - for teenagers!
Claire Larson

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