Anthony McGowan, Rook, Barrington Stoke/Allen & Unwin, July 2017, 104pp., $14.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781781127230
In this well-crafted, emotionally compelling story by acclaimed British author, Anthony McGowan, teenage protagonist Nicky is caught in a bind. The cover of Rook aptly shows the head-first dive that Nicky is about to take. He is in love with the sister of a boy at school: the sister of a boy who is bullying him. Throughout Rook, Nicky’s struggle to identify and communicate his true feelings stands in stark contrast to his special-needs brother, Kenny, who possesses no filters and blurts out whatever is on his mind.
The book’s title refers to an injured rook rescued by Nicky and his brother, and McGowan uses the parallels between Nicky and ‘Rooky’ to great effect. Like Nicky, Rooky is no longer a baby bird, but also not yet full-fledged adult. When Rooky pecks for worms in the frozen earth at the beginning of the story, one can’t help but reflect on the hard-scrabble circumstances of Nicky’s own family life. And Rooky’s fight to survive a brutal attack serves as another mirror for Nicky’s struggle: when the hate directed at him becomes unbearable he finds relief by lashing out himself, with disastrous consequences.
McGowan takes a great deal of care in describing Nicky’s inner turmoil, and in doing so, carves out a respectful space for the teen reader to explore and address their own. The complexities and motives behind bullying are dealt with sensitively and the story ends on a hopeful note. Simple raw language and strong visceral images give Rook plenty of emotional punch, and will glue even the most reluctant reader to the page.
The publisher, Barrington Stoke, deserves acknowledgement for their commitment to editing and designing their books in ways that alleviate reading difficulties associated with dyslexia.
Recommended for both preteens and teens.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Foster