I found myself staring into space after finishing the final chapter of David Almond’s Brand New Boy; marvelling at how this master storyteller manages to lead us into the dark depths of his middle grade novel, where its existential themes are lurking, while still making us feel like we are being floated along on the gentlest of currents.
Indeed it is with the very lightest of touches and through the innocent eyes of Daniel that we meet George – a strange new boy who makes Daniel question what it means to be alive and free.
Daniel and his friends could be any one of us; they are children who eat crisps and play imaginary games in the woods, who enjoy a game of football in the playground. He embodies the very essence of a normal childhood, in a normal school, in a normal town, in a normal time. There are no fireworks or sleights of hand or dastardly villains in this story, nor heart-stopping peril or monstrous beasts; but it is perhaps all the more startling for that very reason – the idea that there could be things in the real world, or in the near future, created by ‘normal’ people that don’t quite sit right in our minds.
By the same token, however, we learn that an ordinary child can do extraordinary things;
Daniel’s curious and caring nature, supported by a heartwarming relationship with his Mam, shows us how accepting and perceptive and ingenious a ‘normal’ child can be.
Middle grade readers will no doubt enjoy the familiar environments of this novel, brought to life by the wonderful illustrations of Marta Altés, and perhaps revel in seeing teachers and adults fall into the age-old trap of underestimating the children in their lives!