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4.2 out of 5 stars21
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on 4 February 2008
This story delivers a simple message. It warns of the dangers of indiscriminately believing everything one hears, and invites the reader to evaluate, analyse and review information before choosing how we react to those who the details relate to. In short, the message is don't be taken in by everything you see and hear.

Devoid of the trappings of flowery rhetoric, Zephaniah presents a straightforward account of one boy's quest to find the truth behind a horrendous murder he witnesses in the school playground. There is a noticeable lack of adjectives and adverbs, but this only serves to distance the reader from forming pre-conceived ideas about the characters presented in the story.

Zephaniah skilfully avoids stereotypes - we are not given any detail of ethnicity or religion. He does however, allude to some common mis-representations of individuals in society (noticeably mental illness) and allows us to consider the consequences of domestic violence, broken homes and absent parents; but without judgement or amplification. The reader is simply left to follow the story as the case unravels to a surprising and totally unexpected climax and here lies the strength of Zephaniah's writing, as the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place without any change in the pace or flow of the story.

Zephaniah does not preach, moralize nor make assumptions; but neither does he miss the opportunity to drive home the importance of tackling bullying. The lead character Jackson Jones is an ordinary boy who engages in frank exchanges with his mother, openly asks questions, enters 'enemy territory' and also cries. He is not presented as a weakling, but neither is he given the kudos of a Hollywood hero. He is simply a teenager in any secondary school, in any town in the country; but what he discovers allows the reader to consider how we 'see' 'hear' and process what is presented to us as the truth.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 25 January 2010
Teacher's Dead begins with the murder of Mr Joseph. He is stabbed by one of his students. The student, Lionel, and his friend, Ramzi, plead guilty very early in the novel. Thus, the plot itself is not so much about the murder, but rather about the experiences the first-person narrator Jackson makes as he tries to get to the bottom of this "case". The novel is the account of a schoolboy who is determined to reveal why his two fellow students killed his teacher.

Throughout the storyline there is a critique of the media coverage of the murder. In the newspapers and the TV news, the two boys are the bad guys and their families are to be blamed for them turning out to be such bad guys. Like the narrator, the two boys lived with their single mother. Jackson is angry about this over-simplification and traces the personal story of the two boys. What he finds is sadness. Soon, the school boy and the wife of his stabbed teacher become close friends. He calls it his "case" and reports his findings in a diary type of style to the reader. In the course of his investigations he has contact with two different gangs of teenage bullies. It turns out that one of these gangs is directly related to the murder of his teacher. Finally, Jackson even becomes friend with the mother of the murderer, who is a considered to be a witch by everybody else.

The story is told in surprisingly distant terms. The first person narrator considers his search for the truth as a kind of personal therapy. However, we do not get an inward perspective of himself or of any of the characters. We get an idea of how some of the person involved must feel - the mum of the murderer feels lonely and sad, for example. But the reader is given little else than the necessary hints to make her/ his own assumptions. The book was written for young adults. Consequently, the simple language is justified. The language is reduced to tell the important facts.

Benjamin Zephaniah likes documentaries and poetry. Both styles of narration are mixed in Teacher's Dead. What comes out is a detective story and an invitation to form one's own opinion. The first person narrator comes across several persons who are considered to have mental health problems and are let down by their neighbours and society. He approaches them without prejudice. A lot of his behaviour appears to be childlike naïve, but this serves to illustrate how painful prejudices can be for the concerned individuals.

The book speaks up against bullying, whether it might happen at school, in the neighbourhood or via the media. Furthermore, a central theme is the aptitude to forgive. Altogether, I enjoyed reading this book by Zephaniah just as I enjoyed reading Face and Gangsta Rap because it reminds us about important inter-human values in an unorthodox and mind sharpening manner. The language used could be a bit more sophisticated for my taste. However, because of its simplicity the novel will be understood by a large number of readers. Zephaniah is well aware that his audience does not only consist of people with a university degree, thus, his language serves his purpose as a poet who wishes to inform people about "the truth".
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2011
Fiction written in a simplistic but very believable way! When you read in the papers about senseless acts of violence, you shake your head and wonder what on earth could possess a human being to act in such a way towards another human being. This story is that wondering with a teenage slant on it. It is all too easy to blame the parents for the young adult's actions but this book shows they are affected just as much as the family of the murder victim.
A good read - one I recommended to my book club!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 July 2013
Benjamin Zephaniah is better known as a poet than a novelist and this was the first book of his that I have read. "Teacher's Dead" was published in 2007 and, as its title, suggests deals with the aftermath of the murder of a schoolteacher, Edgar Jones, by two teenage pupils, Lionel Ferrier and Ramzi Sanchin.

The story is told by another pupil, Jackson Jones, who witnessed the stabbing and who has decided to look into the circumstances of the murder. This `investigation", a necessary self-therapy to deal with his confusion and emotions about what has happened, uncovers new information about the crime, about those involved and about Jackson himself. This allows readers to continually develop and refine their opinions on what happened and why. At the end there is a twist that is entirely believable.

Jackson makes contact with the teacher's widow and with the mother of one of the two boys, who is emotionally and physically isolated, and attends the trial at which both boys plead guilty. These two women and Jackson's mother present a strong female core with equivalent male characters being entirely absent.

There is are complementary stories about Jackson's bullying at school and about an unbalanced woman who claims to be Ramzi's mother, both of which link to the murder story. Like all of the main young characters, Jackson is brought up by his mother, but has a good relationship with her. Being something of a swat he is also a loner which enables him to comment from a distance on the everyday events that are swirling around him. We learn a great deal about the school, the nearby streets and the people who live there. We also realise just how many of these, be they adult or teenagers, are just hanging on in society by their fingernails. Middle-class society is nowhere to be seen.

The book has the dedication "For the truth, and the seekers of truth" and the author's focus is about not taking everything at face value and understanding that there is usually `something' behind what meets the eye. Jackson needs to know why two boys, not much different from himself, could really have come to the commit such an act. This need becomes more palpable with each page turned.

This book appears to be targeted at 12-15 year olds but is one that many adults, especially parents, should read. It uses simple vocabularies of pupil- and teacher-talk, short chapters and a brief list of main characters. Bravely, Zephaniah opens with the murder but there is little danger that readers will lose interest as they read on. This enables the story to bowl along and to engage the reader fully. While it might seem especially suitable for boys, Zephaniah introduces girl gang-members to broaden the social issues of interest.

In the course of his investigations, Jackson uncovers a number of surprising facts and the reader learns about parental relationships - not least about the nature of maternal love. Other issues addressed relate to absent fathers as role models, bullying, peer-group pressure, the need to express one's emotions (especially true for teenage boys), the media's focus on entertainment rather than truth, the family, prejudices and identity, communication and under-age alcohol abuse. All of these issues are addressed in an oblique manner and the author never adopts a `preachy' tone. As a consequence, the reader is teased into a consideration of society's role in the behaviour of young people.

The only character that I questioned was the school's headmistress, Mrs Martel, who towards the end of this short novel seems to be a little too responsive to advice and suggestions from Jackson.

Zephaniah, of Jamaican descent and raised in England, spent two years in prison as a young man. As a result his is a truly authentic voice that will resonate with many. In this book his use of language aims to communicate complex issues, but his poetic ear is never far away. At the end of a novel there is a short poem, "Now the headlines" which includes the lines "How do you like your truth?/Bite-sized in soundbites cut easy to chew,/With a talking head saying the victim's like you,/And when you've digested the horrors you've seen/You find good, you find evil, with no in-between". If some readers are introduced to Zephaniah's poetry through this book, then so much the better.
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This is a thought-provoking book, mainly reinforcing the simple tenet; do not believe everything you see. In this case, it's not quite so much what you see as what you don't see at first glance.

The author narrates this beguiling story through the simple - as in straightforward - mind of a schoolboy who witnessed the killing of a teacher in his school, in full view of many people and by two pupils who make no attempt to escape. Rather they encourage their capture and imprisonment.

It certainly isn't a 'whodunnit' rather a 'whydunnit' and as the schoolboy, Jackson Jones, begins to delve into the background of the families involved, things are not quite as they might seem.

I did find the ease with which the wife of the murdered teacher seemed to gloss over the fact and lean heavily on seeing the good side of people, a little disconcerting. Similarly, the ease with which Jackson creates a scenario which leads to an absorbing ending suggests an old head on young shoulders and certainly gainsays the old Shaw edict that 'youth is wasted on the young'. This, again, sitting uneasily with, in my view, the events which would actually happen in the real world. It's a case of if only...

However, taking the book at face value, it provides food for thought. Whether I would want to dine at this table is rather a moot point but I wouldn't deny the youngster his chance to shine.
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on 20 June 2013
I found this book very intriguing and a definite page-turner. I picked up this book because of the Author. I Had read a couple of his other books including `Face' and `Gangsta Rap' and enjoyed them so when I saw this on the shelf I was immediately intrigued. After reading the blurb I was fascinated by what was on offer; a crime mystery case in the style of Sherlock Holmes.

Although not your typical whodunit the book starts with the murders named in the first chapter. It's narrated by one of the witnesses Jackson Jones who feels the need to find out what has driven these boys to become murders as his type of therapy. One of the good things about this book would be the fact that whether you're sitting on a train or waiting for a meeting you could pick this up and dive straight into the plot

One of the core morals I found coming up again and again in the book would be judgment; it is a main topic that is repeated throughout the characters. If I could take anything away from reading this book is that first impressions are not always accurate. Also the ability to forgive a central theme as although Zephaniah does not use the most sophisticated vocabulary his message despite aimed at the teen youth could be branched at any age group.
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on 23 September 2013
Oh, how I wanted to like this. After all, it's not about a boy wizard... and it makes a semi-decent stab (pun vaguely intended) at locating itself in a world that's recognisable to its readership... and it's by Benjamin Zephaniah, an unfailingly decent and upstanding chap.

Alas... it's really not up to much. While the intention is laudable, characterisation is desperately thin, the plot equally threadbare, the 'twist' virtually non-existent... and the dialogue... ooooh, the dialogue, given that it was written by a poet, is stiff and unnatural beyond redemption. I suspect that BZ might have had reluctant/lower ability readers in mind... but specialist publishers (and, more importantly, *editors*) like the good folk at Barrington Stoke manage to combine linguistic accessibility *and* brevity *and* pace *and* grittiness *and* realism... which this, unfortunately, only ever hints at.

So... consider my 3* rating a generous one, for attempting a novel that aspires to do a crossover between 'The Curious Incident...' and 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'... but falls at pretty much all the hurdles in between.
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VINE VOICEon 11 May 2010
I am not the target market for this book so please bear that in mind when reading my review.
This author was interviewed on the radio about this book so I bought it for my daughter. She wasn't really interested (not a reader!!) so I thought I would try it for myself.
The writing is very direct and there is little pretence with any side plots. Both understandable due to the size of the book and the target audience.
The story deals with a mindless knife crime and how the people involved come to terms with it.
Jackson Jones is very believeable as a character as are many of the other teenagers, although I wasn't quite so convinced about the adults in the books, they all seemed too good to be true.
Knife crime is tackled head on in a way which, I think, would engage teenagers but I'm not sure that the type of teenagers to get involved in knife crime would be likely to read this book.
Interesting way of starting discussion about an increasing problem.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 1 February 2009
A good story for the over 12s. It makes you think about the issue of mental illness.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 December 2013
It must be one of the best books i have read. I couldnt stop reading it i would definitely recommend this book.
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