Branford-Boase Prize Longlist: Week 2

This week’s titles include my most and least favourite of the longlisted books that I’ve read so far. I start with the good, nay, the brilliant, first.

Wild Boy by Tom Lloyd Jones
Wild Boy
London, 1841. A boy covered in hair and raised as a monster, condemned to life in a travelling freak show. A boy with an extraordinary power of observation and detection. A boy accused of murder; on the run; hungry for the truth. Behold the savage spectacle of Wild Boy. Ladies and Gentlemen, take your seats. The show is about to begin! 

I read and reviewed Wild Boy last year, and it was the best childrens’ book of the year for me. It had that mix of adventure and excitement with a touch of magic and the macabre that I found so appealing as a young reader, and continue to love now. My full review can be found here. My eldest niece wants to read Wild Boy too, so I’ll add her thoughts once she’s had a chance to read it.

There’s a lovely review in The Guardian, one of their ‘By Kids For Kids’ ones.
Here’s another blogger who loved it just as much as me: The Book Zone

Obviously Wild Boy gets a great big double thumbs up from me.

Now it’s time to move onto a book that did not work for me at all.

Ferryman by Claire McFall
When teenager Dylan pulls herself free from a train wreck and emerges onto an almost deserted Scottish hillside, she believes she is the only survivor. Seeing the figure of a boy on the bank she enlists his help. But Tristan is no ordinary passerby, and Dylan soon learns that instead of being the only survivor of the wreck, she is in fact the only fatality. 

This is going to be tough for me because usually if I don’t like a book I stay quiet about it, but as I’ve committed to featuring the whole longlist I’m going to have to toughen up and get critical. But first, I have to start with the positive. I was intrigued by the concept, and I thought the first few chapters were really good. I enjoyed the Prologue, and thought the first paragraph set up an interesting situation. I particularly liked the description of this jaded character, focused but detached. A sense of mystery is created. The first chapter proper is good too. We meet Dylan as she recounts her disastrous day, one of those that starts bad and just keeps getting worse. Unfortunately, it’s about to get as bad as it can get for Dylan.

Possible Spoilers: avoid the next two paragraphs if you don’t want to know any more plot details. The boy Dylan meets, Tristan, is her ferryman – her guide to the ‘other side’, whatever that may be. It’s quickly apparent that Dylan is technically dead, but she hasn’t reached her final destination yet – so far so good. The problems I have are firstly that it rapidly becomes a ‘one true love’ story, with world-weary Tristan finding something in Dylan that jolts him out of his ennui. I’m not keen on the teenagers being paired off forever and ever as their only destiny trope. Dylan’s never even had a boyfriend before she meets Tristan, but she’s willing to risk eternal death to be with him. The final scenes made me think what an awful responsibility she now has to make him happy for the rest of their lives.

But, what really made me mad was a small section where Tristan is explaining why the screeching demons are so keen to grab Dylan’s soul as they travel the wasteland. It’s because she’s pure, and ‘pure souls are like a feast‘ to them. In case there was any doubt what pure refers to we’re told it’s not about being perfect but being a virgin. Seriously, I nearly stopped reading right there. This type of stuff bothers me enormously; I’m not comfortable with the idea that virginity = purity, because the real message there is that sex = impurity. No, I cannot get on-board with this ever. So, the combination of teenage girl meets ancient soul, only she can free him, plus negative female sexuality message left me cold. I had some more general issues with the way the wasteland operated, but they pale beside my major concerns.

Everyone can come back now – no more spoilers! Overall the story was not for me and I can’t recommend it. It’s not the writing that’s the problem, but that the story’s theme and messages don’t work for me. But, I have read some amazing reviews from readers that thought completely differently.

There’s this one here at Readaraptor! and another at Serendipity Reviews. It’s also on the Scottish Trust’s Children’s Book Awards Shortlist.

It looks like I’m in a minority this time! If you’ve read either please let me know what you think.

2 thoughts on “Branford-Boase Prize Longlist: Week 2”

  1. I can't work up any interest at all in Ferryman, which is probably going to stop me reading all of the nominations – although McFall's new one, Bombmaker, looks more to my taste.

    As for Wild Boy – wow, wonderful! Definitely my favourite of those I've read so far. Brilliant fun with great characters. (And I guessed who the villain was surprisingly early so I even feel quite clever. 🙂 )


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