Paul Jennings, A Different Boy, Allen & Unwin, August 2018, 96 pp., RRP $14.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781760523503
Well known, award winning author, Paul Jennings, brings young readers another survival story about a courageous, strong protagonist grappling in a perilous situation.
When Anton is admitted as an orphan to a brutal boy’s institution, he thinks of his father’s words – “If you’ve got a bad deal, get out of it and move on”. So, he takes the first opportunity to escape and board an ocean liner bound for the “The New Land” of his dead parents’ dreams– “a warm, sunburnt country of sweeping plains and rugged mountains”. He is a stowaway. How will he escape detection? Can he keep the strange, disabled boy, Max, safe and uphold his part of the deal with Max’s mother? Finally, when all seems lost, there is an unexpected turn of events and Anton is finally safe.
Through evocative language, Jennings describes the desolation of post war England, the brutality of the orphanage and Anton’s feelings of doom after boarding the ship. The storyline is complex and fast paced. This grim and suspenseful tone keeps the reader turning the pages, hoping for Anton to survive.
Jennings is the master of gripping short stories with twists and turns and truly surprising endings. This story is no exception. It will engage 10-15-year olds who enjoy a fast paced, short story. With a writing style that is easy to read, without being patronising, it has special value in being accessible for early adolescents who have low literacy.
Reviewed by Barbara Swartz