Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Pigeon English - Stephen Kelman

Publication Details

Published by Bloomsbury in March 2011/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on July 19th 2011
263 pages
Unknown number of chapters

This book was sent to me for review from the publisher in return for an honest review. I have not been paid or told in any way to review this book positively or negatively. Everything stated in the review below is purely of my own, personal opinion.


Lying in front of Harrison Opoku is a body, the body of one of his classmates, a boy known for his crazy basketball skills, who seems to have been murdered for his dinner.

Armed with a pair of camouflage binoculars and detective techniques absorbed from television shows like CSI, Harri and his best friend, Dean, plot to bring the perpetrator to justice. They gather evidence—fingerprints lifted from windows with tape, a wallet stained with blood—and lay traps to flush out the murderer. But nothing can prepare them for what happens when a criminal feels you closing in on him. Recently emigrated from Ghana with his sister and mother to London’s enormous housing projects, Harri is pure curiosity and ebullience—obsessed with gummy candy, a friend to the pigeon who visits his balcony, quite possibly the fastest runner in his school, and clearly also fast on the trail of a murderer.


Pigeon English is an originally Adult novel turned YA novel that tells the story of one boy's life in a Britain, as it explores the ups and downs of friendship, family and life.

For being such a small book, we meet a significant number of different characters from start to finish, varying from the main character's friends, family, enemies, local residents and more. Due to the high number of characters introduced throughout the entirety of the novel, I am going to focus on the main character - Harri Opoku.

Harri Opoku is our eleven year old narrator. Harri moved to Britain from Ghana with his 'Mamma' and sister - Lydia - in what we can only assume is the search of a new and better life. I didn't love Harri as a character, but I didn't hate him either, he kind of irritated me a tiny bit in some parts of the book, but not enough to make me dislike him, but he also never really did anything that made me absolutely love him either. Harri seems to be entirely oblivious to just how big and dangerous the world really is - he doesn't realise that he's surrounded by violence and hatred. He also doesn't understand how the world works - he tends to assume that whatever he thinks is the correct answer to everything and anything. So overall, I thought Harri was a pretty O.K. character, I didn't love or hate him, even though the fact that he could be extremely gullible really aggravated me sometimes!

As for Stephen's writing style, I kind of had a love/hate relationship with it to be honest. One of my biggest 'pet peeves' when it comes to writing is when the author repeats words over and over and over.. and over. And this book did that with a few words. I can understand why this happened - the book is narrated by an eleven year old boy, so it can be expected that his vocabulary isn't going to be that wide and so he would be likely to repeat words, but when I read at least one of the four or so words on almost every page, it can get extremely irritating and I almost put the book down and stopped reading it because of this at one point. And the worst part is that two of these words were 'slang' words so I wasn't even sure if I was pronouncing them right, so almost every other page I found myself struggling to pronounce these simple words. The four words I found to be repeated a lot are; hutious, brutal, asweh, and bo-styles. That's the only real issue I had with the writing. As for the positive side; I really liked that Stephen's writing in this was really simple and basic, it really helped me get into the mindset of Harri and allowed me to feel more empathetic towards him, like I was really in his shoes and almost as if I were participating in his every day activities.

Overall I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I'd hoped to. There are a couple more things I'd like to discuss before I end this review: 1. Plot. 2. Ending.

1. Plot: I was extremely let down by the plot. In the synopsis, we are told that Harri sets out to discover who murdered his 'friend' and the synopsis makes this sound like a pretty critical and dominant part of the book - it isn't. I would guess that this actually makes up about 25-30% of the entire book, it's only mentioned every 20 pages or so, and when it is mentioned, it only lasts for a few pages, maybe a chapter at most, and this really disappointed me. I was setting up for this story of a young boy setting out to find his friends killer and all that good stuff, but it's barely discussed and on top of that, as far as I'm concerned, we never even find out the dead boy's name! For the entirety of the book, he is literally referred to as 'the dead boy'. I guess it just stresses me out when the synopsis of a book is totally misleading.

2. Ending: I am both utterly furious and fascinated by the end of the book. Put it this way - when I read the ending I thought, "ARE YOU FREAKING SERIOUS?! THAT'S HOW YOU END THE BOOK?!". However, after giving it some thought, I realised just how though-provoking it really is, I realised that for this book to really make an impact, it needed to have an ending that explored the harsh realities of life and how the unexpected can lie right in front of us, yet remain in hidden darkness.

It's for the ending specifically that I gave this book the rating that I did in the end. If it weren't for the thought-provoking ending, it would have been one less star. Also, this book has quite a fair bit of humour throughout it that made me giggle and laugh out loud, so that helped me get through a lot!

4 out of 5 stars!

No comments:

Post a Comment