Benjamin Zephaniah, Teacher’s Dead, Bloomsbury Australia, 1 April 2018, 218pp., $14.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781408895016
Teacher’s Dead was originally published in 2007, but this new paperback edition shows that young adult fiction which examines the themes of bullying, truth and the media is perhaps more relevant now than ever.
Opening with the shocking murder of popular teacher Mr Joseph, stabbed in front of the whole school, the book captures readers’ interest from the first sentence. While the identity of the killers is never a secret, for one student, Jackson Jones, the brutal event triggers a deep need to understand not who killed Mr Joseph, but why they did such a terrible thing. His investigations lead to an unlikely friendship with Mr Joseph’s widow and act as a form of personal therapy.
Teacher’s Dead is a commentary on the hidden complexities of life and relationships which are often glossed over in a 24/7 news cycle society. While school violence such as that depicted in this novel is thankfully less common in Australia, bullying, poverty and mental health are all topical and sadly prevalent challenges. The role of the media in magnifying stereotypes and creating bias is also a feature of this story.
Best known as a performance poet, Benjamin Zephaniah has had a long and varied career across many different fields, which you can read about on his website. Teacher’s Dead, his fourth young adult novel, is written in a gritty, direct style, which I believe will appeal largely to teenage boys. The subject matter is quite mature, but the text is accessible, making it particularly suitable for reluctant readers or as a class novel. Not every reader will enjoy Teacher’s Dead, and as the most exciting event occurs on the first page, some will find that their interest wanes, but the brief chapters keep the story moving, and at only 218 pages, the book is not a long read. I personally did not warm to any of the characters, but found the overall plot to be thought provoking and sure to stimulate interesting classroom discussion.
Reviewed by Kay Oddone