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A simple message
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.