Other brother by Simon French
Walker Books, 2012. ISBN 978 1 971720 83 3
(Ages 11+) Highly recommended. Family. Seeing a new book by Simon French is enough to give me goosebumps as I recall with gratitude his earlier stories, Change the locks and Cannily cannily, which gave a sympathetic voice to those children rarely seen in children's book, the itinerant and neglected. In many books these children are presented as stereotypes, rarely are they seen as characters in their own right. The other brother, Bon, in this superb book, is a neglected child of a mentally unstable woman, who leaves him with her mother and sister in a small country town, where everyone knows each other's business.
The story revolves around the boy fitting in to his new family, especially his cousin, who rejects him out of hand, wanting to keep cool with his friends at school, and dismissing Bon's oddities as weird. His parents and sister, as well as his grandmother, are very sympathetic and supportive of Bon, and the reader feels from the start, that the adults know more than they are telling the children.
The school yard is most effectively shown, with its gangs of kids, places where some feel safer than others, kids looking to hurt, manipulate and undermine, while others show compassion and support. Bon and Kieran move around each other for a while, until the bullying by Kieran's friends puts him in a position where he must do the same to keep his friends. He is instantly sorry and his attempts to apologise to Bon see him following the boy into the night when he attempts to run away.
This is the sort of story all kids will read and discuss. It is the tale of an outsider, a neglected child who has looked after himself for many years, skirting around his mother's moods, then thrust into a family where even to sit down together is a different experience.
It is the story of being rejected, of fitting in, of changing attitudes, of things kept beneath the surface. But overall it is the story of a family, responding to the needs of another member, helping the child adapt to a calmer environment and helping their own son accept the new boy for what he is. The parents are marvellously drawn, so much so that several times, I reread passages to see how French had made me so involved in their lives. The minor characters too all have a face and background, each is individual, while the background of Bon's friend Julia is slowly revealed to the reader and we learn about it along with Kieran.