My Pick for the Man Booker Prize
When adults write in the voice of a child, it can come across as either patronizing or precious. Pigeon English, my pick for the Man Booker Prize, avoids either pitfall and instead captures all the innocence and cleverness of a young boy named Harrison, an 11-year-old Ghanaian refugee who lives in a housing estate in England (what we would call public housing).
Harri's voice is compelling and infectious as he tells his story with the patois of Africa mixed with the street slang of south London. After emigrating to his new home, Harri tries to decipher the strange surroundings. Some things are unfamiliar, like bullies, gangs, very tall buildings, and ultra-cool cell phones. Other things are only too familiar, like the bloodshed he witnesses after a teenager in his council estate is killed, which reminds him of the war at home.
Just like any other boy, Harri is a little frightened by the killing, but is also fascinated. He and his best friend decide that they will investigate and discover the killer, just like the TV show CSI.
Along the way, Harri talks to his guardian angel of sorts, a pigeon that lives in his neighborhood and watches him as he runs through the estate, dreams of being a superhero, and argues with his friends about "dope fine" trainers.
Kelman's writing often comes close to poetic, particularly when he describes Harri in the rain, or his complicated relationship with God. It's the type of writing that literally moved me to tears more than once.
But there is also a lot of gross-out humor, of the type that appeals to young boys, and many adults too. I will warn you that there also are some very adult subjects addressed, just as there are for too many children today, and the language can be rough-and-tumble, just like Harri's neighborhood.
But more than anything, this is the story of a young man right on the precipice of boyhood and manhood, of right and wrong, of home and away. (2011 - Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)