‘Every outsider has strength’ proclaims the front cover of this, the latest book from the talented Anthony McGowan, and indeed the story goes to show that even in difficult, seemingly impossible circumstances, a way – perhaps hidden – can be found through the problems.
Here, we travel for a little while alongside Matthew (unkindly nicknamed ‘Stinky Mog’ by other kids), a young teenage boy who spends much of his time at school just surviving the course of the day. He is the self-proclaimed ‘minotaur’; a rejected, unloved monster at the centre of his own labyrinth (“I thought about my mum for a while, and the feelings were so complicated you couldn’t put words to them”). The metaphor is apt: what we discover, if we listen carefully, is that Matthew has lost himself, the taunting at school and pressures of being a young carer have squeezed his self-esteem to the lowest ebb.
Matthew envies the ‘golden gang’ and admires the beautiful Ari (‘Ariadne’) from afar. But this only goes to worsen his lot: he builds more and more walls for himself by hoping for a ‘golden’ future. There’s light at the end of the tunnel for Matthew, though, and it doesn’t come in the form of any pat ‘happy ending’; rather it is his acceptance of a new kind of belonging at the end of the book which feels like a kind of emergence into fresh air, having been in the stifling atmosphere of his emotional turmoil for so long. And it won’t go unnoticed by the bibliophiles that librarians and the library itself – both asylum and ultimate saviour for Matthew – form an important part of this redemption.
It’s a book with a pacy plot but read it too quickly and one could easily miss the subtle nuance and mastery of McGowan’s writing. Slow it down by sharing it as a read-aloud in the secondary school, alongside discussion and empathetic consideration, and much of what Matthew is will speak its own truth clearly.
Copyright: Just Imagine Story Centre Ltd 2012-2019. All rights reserved.
These notes may be printed freely for use in classrooms but may not be reproduced in any other format without the permission of the author.