The Humiliations of Welton Blake took me back to an iconic opening sequence to a popular children’s programme of times past. Do you remember the early years of Grange Hill? If you grew up in the 70s or 80s you’ll recall the iconic intro sequence where all kinds of secondary school escapades were presented as fast-paced scenes of a comic strip. Well, the style and impact of these images were very much in my mind while reading this latest book from the outstanding Alex Wheatle.
A typical lad experiencing the ups and downs of family and secondary-school life in all its embarrassing, confusing and – at times – riotous glory, Welton offers us the full guided tour: from the frustrations of a broken phone while trying to set up a date, through dealing with the school bullies (‘Tax for the Chancellor, Blakey!”), to his first, incredibly awkward – and slightly disgusting – kiss.
Despite the fact that 95% of the novel follows one disastrous event after another (and there’s no shilly-shallying around at the start – we’re straight into ‘the humiliations’!) there’s a glorious happy ending. And that’s just so perfect, of course: the ultimate joy of reading this book is very much wrapped up in its cliff-hanger chapters, the awful villains, the hapless hero – in fact, all those traditional tropes that make for a really pleasurable read, and that includes the perfect happy ending.
The style of the book is incredibly pacey, like the best of comic-books; nothing is laboured, the jokes are blink-and-you’ve-missed-it, whip crack sharp; the emotional tensions are masterfully handled with the most telling but lightest of touches; the ending might be the one we’ve all hoped for throughout, but there’s no let-down and certainly any sentimentality is kept far at bay.
The dramas and large-as-life characters might remind teachers (of a certain age!) of a modern-day Grange Hill, though there are far more laughs to be had and, as with the best of humorous writing, the jokes are often a foil to revelations of more tender sensitivities. As Jenny Pearson’s adorable novel The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates does to show pre-teen boys at their most true-to-life, so Welton Blake will help build empathy for and offer consolidation to that oft-misunderstood enigma – the teenage male.
If I were a secondary kid nowadays, I’d look forward hugely to hearing from this book each day in form time: I can very easily imagine the laughs throughout (and the reflective silence that would follow the end of one chapter in particular) accompanying a read-aloud to today’s teenage audience. Boys and girls alike from Years 7 – 9 especially will completely love this book and I envy the form-tutor who gets to share this book with their classes. Barrington Stoke has done it again – I’m quite gobsmacked by the sheer class of writing they’re producing at the moment for this tricky early-teen market of readers!
The Humiliations of Welton Blake is an absolute, hands-down winner in my book. More please, Mr Wheatle, MUCH more!
You can listen to Alex Wheatle talking to Nikki Gamble about his novel Cane Warriors #InTheReadingCorner
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