Reviews /

The Den

Authored by Keith Gray
Published by Barrington Stoke

The Den is another well-observed and spare novella about masculinity and male friendships from Keith Gray and Barrington Stoke. 13-year-old Marshall lives with his dad, a former roadie who is now addicted to painkillers after an accident several years ago. Marshall’s mum and older sister have both left so it is just the two of them. At the start of the summer holidays, Marshall and his friend Rory cycle out to one of their old haunts, the abandoned Skelter Cottage, but discover it has now been bulldozed, leaving nothing but an enticing trapdoor. When they open it, they find an underground den which might once have been a basement or a bomb shelter. Marshall thinks this will be the perfect place to escape from his troubled home life, but Rory wants to share it with his other friends.

As in The Climbers, Gray captures the reality of living in a small and tight-knit village where there are limited recreational opportunities for young people. He also shows an insightful understanding of teenage boys’ friendships and insecurities: the way that Rory and Marshall both do and don’t confide about their home lives; how it’s ok for Marshall to call his dad ‘a loser‘ but not for anyone else; how quickly friendship can turn sour, and the irresistible lure of violence. However, while this story explores darker issues, Gray still shows that characters have the capacity to change (including Marshall’s father) and offers a resolution which is satisfying without being unsentimental.

The Den is another great example of Barrington Stoke’s ‘hi lo’ philosophy – a book which will appeal to and engage readers across the KS3 and KS4 age range (particularly boys) whilst being accessible to those who have previously been reluctant or struggling readers. This is an excellent addition to their catalogue and deserves to be shared with readers in all secondary schools.