Hello Darkness by Anthony McGowan

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Walker Books, 2013. ISBN 9781406337846.
(Age: 12+) Anthony McGowan is well known for previous books, Henry Tumour and The Knife That Killed Me; both of which have won awards in Britain. I visited his website and discovered an interesting film clip where he is interviewed about the gang culture in Britain, knives, schools, and parenthood. He talks about school being a scary place in a world where the gap between the rich and poor widens. Young people come together for safety and a bit of security. Hello Darkness is a story about Johnny Middleton, an outsider, excluded from all the school factions, and at the mercy of aggressive teachers. Everyone knows that he has returned to school after suffering a recent nervous breakdown. He becomes entangled in a killing spree where all the school pets are killed, and he is determined to prove his innocence and reveal the killer.
From the first page on I was immersed in life at the school; intrigued, amazed and amused. The humour is wonderful, especially when Johnny exaggerates circumstances, embellishing at every opportunity. However Johnny's plight is often heartbreaking and the reader hopes he finds the culprit soon. The language is fast-paced, making this story very readable. There is however a niggling uncertainty as we read. Some things are farfetched and the comedy darkens and Johnny seems to experience a slipping sense of reality. In fact the reader is never quite sure how much of what Johnny is seeing or doing is actually happening. This is what makes the book enjoyable: all is not clear and it is interesting to try to work things out.
Julie Wells