This book has recently been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal: a literary award which celebrates recently published teenage fiction. As I am a secondary school student and Wymondham High has a very active library, I, with a team of other pupils and our librarian, review the shortlist each year and publish our reviews. (It certainly acts as an incentive for me to read books that aren’t just classics!)
Some of the time, I do not gel brilliantly with some of the books: Rook, however, was not too bad at all! I ended up quite enjoying it.
Essentially, this book follows two young brothers named Kenny and Nicky who live with their divorced dad and his girlfriend. Their father is a little dysfunctional and is trying to sort his life out; Nicky is secondary school age and Kenny is slightly younger. In the opening of the book, the two boys are on a dog walk and they find a rook (hence the title) which has just been attacked by a sparrowhawk and is lying on the ground bedraggled and dying. Kenny, with his young personality, is desperate to take this animal home and nurse it better, to which Nicky eventually does agree. The two boys subsequently take the animal home.
Other various subplots include Nicky having a crush on somebody at school for his first time, that girl’s elder brother who torments and bullies Nicky, whilst also dealing with family issues between the two brothers and their father. The book continues as follows really!
Contrary to inevitable belief upon looking at the cover and blurb, this book does leave you with a lot to say and a lot to think about after finishing it in terms of what themes it discusses. However, something I will say immediately before going into themes is that this did not feel like reading a novel: it felt like reading a short story.
That is not a bad thing! The book is 123 pages long and it has possibly the biggest font I have ever seen in a book that is not a children’s book or a picture book. It does certainly feel like the sort of book you could read in one sitting – I read it in an evening – and because of the big font and small page count, the story feels like it comes and goes very quickly. That I really liked about this!
I would not have wanted this book any longer than it was: I feel that extending its length would have been a push on the boundaries of reader-patience. But I think that because it was so short, I was able to enjoy it as much as I could possibly enjoy it. The themes were conveyed and stuck in my mind as well as they could possibly have done because there was no boredom or exasperation with the book going on too long. No exasperation meant the positive qualities of the book stuck in my mind and it meant that I have even been starting to enjoy a Carnegie shortlisted book. A quick in-and-out style suited this book perfectly as it got its point across very concisely and with no difficulty for the reader.
In terms of themes, this book really surprised me! The main two plotpoints really are finding the rook and seeing how its condition improves, and Nicky’s massive crush on his girl at school. But regardless of that, those plot areas were not really the point of the book, per se; the main focus, for me, was learning to deal and co-operate with family, atonement for past mistakes, doing the right thing even if it is the hardest thing, endurance during hard times, the benefits of that, not retaliating to vile people, the consequences of succumbing to retaliation, and learning to accept the world as it is without telling small lies to cover up the harshness of the world.
A brilliant way the latter is illustrated is through the rook storyline: Kenny, of course, is desperate for this messed up, vulnerable bird to live after suffering such a vicious attack. Whereas Nicky, with more maturity and also with age and being a teenager, he is thinking that Kenny needs to be spoon fed the cruel reality of life. He disapproves of his dad saying to Kenny “do not worry; your bird will be fine” because the lies are protecting him and not exposing him to the cold reality that Kenny needs, in Nicky’s opinion, to be exposed to.
Additionally, it turns out quite early on that Kenny has a best friend at school who claims that he is Doctor Who (the fun of children) and that he has all these powers. In reality, he has showed Kenny a few card tricks and basic magic up-the-sleeve illusions and that has convinced Kenny enough considering he is very young. As the book goes on and more trauma accumulates, Nicky becomes more exasperated at this and thinks to himself ‘Kenny needs to know’.
There are lots of other themes in this book as well: there was certainly an emphasis placed on making up for mistakes and doing the right thing even if it is very difficult. Through all that, there was an extra message of sticking through rough and hard times in order to eventually get the best eventual outcome and how if one does not do that, the outcomes can vary and change much for the worst.
I could sit here for a long while writing about how all of the themes mentioned in bold above are used and interwoven into the plot of this book. It certainly is not a book which will let you down in terms of themes. In that respect, it did very well indeed!
As a short story itself, it also was quite satisfactory. The storyline as a whole was very poignant and very meaningful. I liked very much how there was more than one storyline and the two storylines were fairly different so they seemed unconnected and added more variety to the story but then at the same time, they still shared very relevant themes.
Overall, I would recommend this to people who like books with themes and also to people who like short stories. I will say that if you do not like books that are very much focused around young teenagers and if you do not like books that can get quite angsty, I would NOT go for this book. I usually am that person and I did not suffer from that when reading this book but I certainly can see why some readers still would; I would therefore caution against that.
Overall, however, this was a very satisfying start to the Carnegie reviewing. Therefore I would recommend it based on what is said above.