Last summer, I thoroughly enjoyed Luke Palmer’s debut novel, Grow. It was a well-written exploration of a young man’s grief at the violent death of his father and the lengths some would go to take advantage of this grief. It was tense and well crafted.
In his second novel, Palmer has again produced a well-wrought story. I read this in one day and could not put it down once I headed into the final 150 pages or so. It was compelling in a car crash kind of way and I could not avert my eyes. Built around the same world as Grow several years later, Play also explores what it means for boys to become men and how to grow up safely, without doing harm to yourself and others.
Play is told via the perspectives of each of a group of four boys whose friendship develops over building and destroying dens in a copse located between their homes and their school. Mark uses the building of the den to escape the misery of his home life with an angrier older brother and a hardworking and tired single mother. It’s here that he meets Johnny, who’s new to town and a firm friendship is formed quite quickly.
The book takes the boys from the age of 12 to the age of 16, from Year 8 to the second year of their GCSEs. It explores the pressure that exists in their lives: academic, social, familial, economic. The different perspectives allow for a developed view of the incidents, enabling the reader to consider how they may have responded to the dilemmas faced, making this an excellent PSHE resource. Have no fear, terrible decisions are made and consequences are paid and it’s both heartbreaking and funny in turn.
A wonderful book that older students would enjoy. Swearing, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual assault and violence are all explored and perhaps students younger than Y9 should be encouraged to wait to read the book in its entirety. Excerpts would make for excellent resources but consider your context when making the recommendation to read it; it’s highly recommended from me.
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