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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 February 2013
The poverty and hopelessness of a boy, Billy, whose only pleasure is in training a Kestrel makes a fiercely poignant story. His father leaves home, probably forever, his mother is no solace - more concerned with her tawdry one nighters. His brother Jud, much older than him and already working down the pit, is only interested in betting on the horses. There is one teacher at school who encourages Billy and winkles out of him a story for the class based on his activities with Kes, the bird he took from a nest and trained, stealing a book in a shop to give him the knowledge of how to fly and care for his bird. The sequences describing him flying the bird have a rough, but entirely lyrical feel. He loves the Kestrel and takes care of it religiously.

Another teacher, the Games teacher, makes fun of Billy and is pointlessly cruel, making him the butt of unfeeling jokes. Jud often sends him to put money on horses at the betting shop and one day Billy is too late. He spends the money on meat for the bird. But Jud deals out a cruel revenge.

This is a simple but searingly sad story. Unusual in that it is honest and forthright about the way Billy's life is narrowing as he approaches the age where his only hope is a manual job, either that or the pit. It's not a happy ending for Billy.

This book was made into a film, Kes, which has a different ending. The book has no time for sentiment. It's a sorrowful yet piercingly honest picture of a child without any consolation. Billy's not a hero, and probably will never climb out of the deadening and futile future that is all the world has planned for him.
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on 31 January 2003
AKFAK contains the harsh reality of life for a boy, Billy, mistreated at home and at school and fated to work in a dead end job in the mines. His escape is his kestrel that he has reared and trained from a chick.
Hines never sweetens the story with false sentiment but keeps all the action gritty and realistic. What is surprising is that it is very easy to sympathise with Billy despite his prickliness, bad manners and violence. Hines portrays him, as a normal boy brought up in poverty without any aspirations- his bad behaviour is a product of these social elements rather than his true self.
There is a strong sense of love underneath the frustration and anger. Billy lives for his kestrel and his sense of devotion is what lifts an otherwise bleak social study to more optimistic levels. The Casper family have a strange mixture of violence, jealousy and love between them- it seems that despite the anger and threats their family must stick together.
The film, Kes, although very similar to the book and a wonderful work in its own right, has a different ending- perhaps motive enough for the film's many fans to read the book and see what really happened.
AKFAK mixes vivid descriptions of the countryside and small industrial town with fleshed out characters with great dialogue and a story that's simplicity tells a moving and plausible tale of hope and grim realism.
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on 21 April 2013
Ok, so I simply don't understand some people. Now I'm adding 'people who have given kestrel for a knave fewer than four star reviews' to the list of people I don't understand. They seem to be missing the point. So the book, I would not advise anyone looking for a comfortable reading experience to pick this one up, it is uncomfortable from the start. The life it describes is bleak and heartbreakingly deprived. Billy Casper quite literally has nothing, his brother (with whom he has to share a bed) is a violent brutal drunk, his mother has a reputation as the local bike and zero maternal instinct. It appears that Billy's father gave attention and even love but that came to an end when he caught Billy's mother with 'Uncle Mick' and he is now out of the picture. Billy has turned his back on the gang he used to hang out with, so is left with no real friends, he does poorly at school and it seems that all but one of his teachers have given up on him. He seems destined to have to go to work in the local pit, alongside his brute of a brother. The one thing he does have is a way with animals, something he has used to train a hawk. Everyone knows that this one light in his life will be snuffed out, but it is the whole story which is heart wrenching. Using local dialect throughout brings the characters to life, while the lyrical descriptions of the countryside and of the falconry contrast with the brutal surroundings of the town and estate. This is stark social realism. The scene in the showers following a lost football match are among the most disturbing that I have ever read, and the indifference shown by Billy's mother over the fate of his beloved Kes encapsulates the indifference Billy meets everywhere. For me it was Billy's tall story which really brought a lump to my throat. The ending is terribly inconclusive but we can see how things will continue for this child with little or no chance of escape.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 October 2014
'Kes' remains one of my all time British movies, and the book that director Ken Loach based his masterwork on, 'A Kestrel for a Knave' by Barry Hines is so good, that it remains on the school syllabus to this day.

It tells the bittersweet story of young Billy Casper, a Barnsley schoolboy from a broken home whose destiny to work down a pit is temporarily relieved by the satisfaction of taming and training a rare bird. Hines brings Billy so vividly to life, his personality, unhappy school and family life with a violent older brother and a neglectful single mother, as well as his love for the bird, his only real friend who he nicknames 'Kes'.

The book has lost none of his magic and appeal despite it's age, and unlike most children's books, it doesn't come with a happy ending. 'A Kestrel for a Knave' is a bleak story set in the north, and although few of the other characters in it are on the right side of likeable, Billy Casper remains a hero in the literacy world, whose life is still being discovered by schoolchildren today.
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on 28 July 2010
A super piece of story telling about an under privileged teenager who trains a Kestrel. Great atmosphere and narrative tension but it's so short that Hines only just gets going before he ends. Really a children's book.

Billy Casper is a dissolute one parent teenager living in a Yorkshire mining town. He's a social and academic failure and his home life is a mess with a bullying elder half brother and a mother whose ambition is to snare another man.

But Billy has a rapport with nature and is a wizard at training animals. He takes a young Kestrel from its nest and, with infinite care and patience, trains it to the lure. Sadly the world is stacked against Billy and his brief interlude of peace and pleasure ends in conflict and disaster.

Hines is very good at the mechanics of telling the story, using Billy's family and school to permit him to reflect Billy's sympathetic relationship with the Kestrel and how it compares to his awkward relationships with human beings. The narrative tension comes naturally out of Billy's character and those of the people in his life. Hines deftly invokes the atmosphere of the town, the school, the mine and the fields around so that Billy's universe is complete for the reader.

The shame of it is that Hines only runs the story to 159 pages, which makes it fine for a children's book but makes it seem like a set of notes rather than a full blown novel to an adult reader. In particular he condenses Billy's thoughts on his missing father to a dream sequence that is the only duff note in the whole book. It ends up feeling like a script for a film - which of course is what it became.
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on 24 August 2003
I read this book years ago, and chose to re-read it a few weeks back, which proved well worth it.
With having family from the area of Yorkshire where the book is set, it is fantastic to read how accurately the dialog reflects the language of the area. It also goes a long way to expressing the hard realities of life in poor mining communities.
At a time when we are once again debating the quality of the education system in Britain, and the old argument of 'things were better in the olden days', the impression given of the school in this book is the strongest argument against!
I love this book and would recommend it to anyone.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 December 2013
This is a really very good book about a boy and a kestrel.

Yes, it's bleak rather than uplifting.

Yes, the image of school with its bully-boy pupils and (largely) complicit staff may be a little too close to real memory to be enjoyable.

And yes, most of the characters in the book are at best flawed and often unlikeable.

However, the composite of these elements gives a real feeling of truth to this book - and while it may play the "it's rough up north" card strongly it does not over do this. In fact, it may be possible to argue that the presence of farm land just outside of most of the pages of the book run counter to the smoky hell cliché of northern England.

Under most circumstances I don't take well too phonetic spelling of accents, but in this case it did not jar as much as in some cases.

The book lacks the happy ending, much beloved of other tales of growth and redemption. The boy flies for a while, but just like his bird, this flight does not last forever.

Very highly recommended.
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on 23 February 2004
The book entitled,"A kestrel for a knave",is about a young,poor,unwanted boy who is trying to survive a crucial life.He is mistreated in the school and in his home by his mother,Mrs.Casper and other close and distant persons in his life.He has one friend that he relates to in this text and that is his kestrel,Kes,which he had to fight for and achieve her possesion as well.Him and the kestrel have a remarkable relationship,like no other pet and its owner.He has a dull future that entails working in the coal mines and continue running erruns for his mother and his brother,Jud.I give this book a two thumbs up and encourage all young people to read it and realize how lucky in life they are.I am 13 years old and this book has changed my life with its motivation.It has changed me by allowing me to realize how fortunate in life I am;to have parents that care,a positive environment to develop in,and the understanding that although my life is not perfect,I am more fortunate than some people in some parts of the world.
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As an English teacher this novel proves to be a popular "read" for teenage students - boys included. It is very much a 1960's novel in some ways, yet transcends its era in terms of style and the way it is so easy to empathise with its protagonist. It makes a fairly obvious political statement yet has a plot that is immediately engaging with lots of tension.
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on 18 March 2001
Although written in the 1960's this book remains as poignant and striking as it was when published.Depicting the life of a teenage boy, named Billy Casper, the book covers just one day in his life. In that single day the book encapsulates the boys' dedication towards his Kestrel, his turbulant home life and troubled schooling. The brutality of life around the mines of Yorkshire is depicted perfectly and the author, once a teacher himself, paints an acurate and astute portrait of education at that time.
Throughout the entire book its main charactor is depicted struggling against the people who oppress him, his family, teachers and those who say he 'will work down the mines'. By the end of the book the reader has encoutered everything from passion, jealousy and hatred, but throughout the novel the overriding feeling is of one boy trying to survive.
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