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#343 ~ Pigeon English

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Published on: July 2011

Page Count: 288

Genre: Literary Fiction

My Reading Format: ARC sent to me by the publisher for review

Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook


My Review

Harrison Opuku, a 7-year student, lives in a London housing tower with his mother and his older sister Lydia. They have emigrated to England from Ghana. His mother was able to move them to London through less than legal ties she made through her sister. Harri’s father, grandmother and baby sister Agnes are still in Ghana, saving for their trip to England. Harri is proud of his place as the fastest runner in his class and does all that he can to ensure that his trainers are bo-styles and that he knows the ins and outs of his life in England. He is also a moral young man. When an acquaintance is stabbed to death out in the open, he and his friend Dean are determined to do what the police don’t seem able to do. They won’t stop until they’ve solved the crime. With that reward money, Harri can bring the rest of his family to London.

Although he is naïve about so much going on around him, Harri takes what he learns about life in London to heart. Following Harri’s adventures and sleuthing, I enjoyed how unaware Harri is that he is young and impressionable. Murder, especially in an area riddled with gangs, is a very serious business. Over time, and as his personal experiences lead him closer to an answer, Harri’s pure joy in discovery takes on a more mature tone. He first becomes judgmental of others and then, after he himself gets involved in things he shouldn’t be involved with, he becomes more understanding and cautious of his surroundings. Luckily, his lust for life and all that it can bring remains part of who he is.

I really enjoyed this novel. It is quite delightful to spend time with a young man who isn’t cynical. What makes Harri’s outlook on life that much more amazing is the bleak place in which he lives. The towers in which he lives in London are just as rife with gangs as they are nasty with the urine left by people too inebriated or too lazy to wait until finding a bathroom. He is a typical boy, but he never loses the respect for family with which he was clearly raised. This is not true of just his mother and aunt. Harri loves both of his sisters more than anyone else. He would do anything to make them happy. He would do anything to keep them safe. Although corruption is all around him, he comes face to face with murder on the streets, his first reaction was to find the murderer. He didn’t run away. He didn’t glorify the murder. He went to work solving the crime. Harri is an exceptional boy.

There are sections of the novel narrated by the pigeon Harri calls his own. It’s the one aspect of the novel that didn’t quite work for me. I believe that he might believe a special pigeon is his alone. He might even adopt one as a type of invisible friend. That the pigeon has a voice of his own just didn’t make sense within the novel.  I did find them to serve as heavy handed overshadowing at the end of the novel, but thankfully they were few and didn’t diminish Harri’s voice.

Stephen Kelman brought this world to life through Harri’s eyes and through his speech. His setting and his characters are authentic and engrossing.  Harri is a wonderful mixture of his early life in Ghana and his desire to live up to the ideals of his new home. Pick up a copy of Pigeon English. I think you’ll enjoy it.

9 Comments

  • At 2011.07.19 10:07, Sandy said:

    It seems I remember mixed reviews on this one. But I do love books with “good kids”, not ones that have been abused and are cynical on life. I think that is why I was so taken with Sebastian from The House of Tomorrow. Very nice review!

    • At 2011.07.19 12:27, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

      This sounds really good, even with the thinking pigeon!

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      • At 2011.07.19 19:54, Diane@BibliophileBytheSea said:

        This sounds wonderful. I just downloaded the eBook. Nice review Jennifer

        • At 2011.07.19 20:27, Marg said:

          The pigeon’s voice didn’t really work for me either.

          • At 2011.07.19 20:53, jenn aka the picky girl said:

            Oh my gosh – I loved Harri but hated the pigeon’s voice. It was so disruptive and felt pedantic. I don’t know. I had hoped they would edit it out when the book was published, but I guess not.

            That said, Harri was such a special character that I still would recommend this book. Glad you liked it, too.

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            • At 2011.07.20 09:14, Beth Hoffman said:

              Harri sounds delightful! Terrific review, Jennifer

              • At 2011.07.22 20:01, bookmagic said:

                I have this from NetGalley, I can’t wait to read it

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