Teacher's dead by Benjamin Zephaniah

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2018. ISBN 9781408895016
(Age: 13+) Students in a poorly performing school are shocked and traumatised when a teacher is stabbed by two boys and dies in front of them.
Jackson, one of the students who witnessed the incident attempts to understand exactly what occurred and begins to investigate. When the bereaved Mrs. Joseph visits the school to speak to the students regarding her late husband's passion for teaching, Jackson approaches her and asks to meet.
A friendship develops between the pair and Jackson invites her home to meet his mother. I found Jackson's 'mission' slightly odd, especially when he makes himself known to Ms. Ferrier, the mother of one of murderers and introduces her to the bereaved woman. The awkwardness and discomfort of the various parties is presented very well, and whilst I initially found the situation improbable, some issues worthy of consideration are examined.
Mrs. Joseph shows incredible grace and intelligence in dealing magnanimously with Ms. Ferrier, when outsiders think she should be shunned and reviled. We learn that sins committed by the son do not necessarily reflect his upbringing or the values of the parent. Whilst Mrs. Joseph suffers greatly from the death of her loved one, her rational way of reconciling the positions of those involved helps alleviate the collective pain, a more desirable outcome than the perpetuation of grief and torment.
There are some clever features in this novel. Whilst readers may create their own mental image, perhaps influenced by stereotypical assumptions, Jackson's voice could be that of any boy. The same may be said for the other major characters as little reference is made to racial identity.
The issue of bullying and gang violence is an important feature of this story and the utter mindlessness of group victimisation is portrayed brilliantly. The attitudes and utterances of those who attack weaker victims was depicted so realistically that I actually felt some sense of despair. This was partly because I was acknowledging the realistic portrayal of moronic philosophy but also because it was clear that the author was recounting personal experience on some level.
Rob Welsh