This ought to be a nice little story, an award-winning YA coming-of-age tale of fourteen year old Henry, set in a not-quite-settled post-war England, learning that his assumptions about people are not always accurate. Yet none of it worked for me. So what went wrong? Firstly, the characters are so simplistic it’s hard to take them seriously. There’s a harassed mum, a bratty sister, a truly nasty and parasitic gran, a working class stepdad studying to better himself. There’s the angelic Mrs Beaumont, who waves her magic wand and makes good things happen. There’s the inspirational teacher, Mr Finch. Henry himself is ridiculously dorkish to start with, before being shown the error of his ways.
And secondly, none of this is subtle. All those Henry despises - the illegitimate schoolfriend, the deserter’s son, the stepdad who has stolen away his mother and inflicted the bratty daughter on the house - turn out to be perfectly nice, sensible people. Those he likes - his dead dad, his granny - turn out to be less than nice. Maybe it’s meant to be allegorical or some kind of fairy tale reworking, or maybe it’s aimed at quite a young demographic, but I found it dull and predictable. I gave up on it, so possibly there are some dramatic twists further down the road, but I had no interest in finding out. One star for a DNF.