Melvin Burgess is our modern day Dickens. If anything, he drives the realities home even harder and replaces sentiment with real and powerful compassion. His writing style is easily accessible by any age and experience - lucid and clear storytelling that grips the reader and lets us live through the young Nick Danes experiences at close quarters. This is an emotional and provocative book that makes the reader shudder and sometimes rage - but it is totally authentic and should be read by teenagers, adults and especially anyone who has any connection with the care and upbringing of young people today. All the events in this book are quite obviously based on careful research but brilliantly threaded together by a great storyteller for the twenty first century.
As an English teacher I always try to read new "children's" fiction. Melvin Burgess always delivers books which cut to the bone and challenge views of society or at least open our eyes to society and 'Nicholas Dane' does just that. This book is hard hitting - it features abuse, violence, rape and there is a lot of strong swearing - but don't let this put you off!
This book will compel you to ask questions - how did this ever happen and who was responsible for it happening!?! Burgess writes with a total honesty, without gratification.
For anyone that has ever experienced a life like the main protagonists, or for those that haven't, his experiences will resonate far longer than it will take you to read the book. Hard-hitting and controversial it may be, but this does happen, perhaps not to the extent that it did in the 80's amongst care homes, but abuse within domestic situations and within homes is still present and if only 1 person after reading this book commits to changing society then Burgess has succeeded in my eyes.
Be warned: not for younger readers. I would say possibly for 15/16 years +. Strong subject matter and language.
Nick is fourteen years old, bored with school and often plays truant with his friends. His Mum, who has discovered studying late in life and is now a mature student, does her best for him, but struggles with her own problems. When his Mum dies suddenly, Nick is left in the care of the social services and this is when his nightmare begins.
Burgess is well known for tackling controversial and challenging issues in an unflinching way and in Nicholas Dane he confronts child sexual abuse, one of his most difficult subjects yet. He deals with the issue sensitively and manages to portray the horror and the shame as well as the sheer mundane predictability of it. For those unfamiliar with the trajectory of lives damaged in this way, he maps a very clear path of shame, turning to self-hatred and self harm. When no-one believes you and those agencies, such as the police and social services, who are supposed to protect you, are complicit in your abuse, then crime is often the only option. Nick is again left vulnerable to exploitation and becomes drawn into a downward spiral of increasing criminal violence.
The book is clearly written in homage to Charles Dickens, specifically Oliver Twist. The story is set in the mid 80s but the style of writing makes it seem longer ago and does evoke a Victorian feel. This works well in some characterisations and descriptions. This is a minor detail but one I found quite distracting when reading. It almost feels as though the subject matter is so distressing that Burgess has used this literary device as a means of providing some distance for the reader. You do not need to be familiar with Dickens to engage with this book but the similarities could provide a useful opening for teachers to compare and contrast Dickens and Burgess. Overall this is a compelling story of how teenage lives can go so very wrong and is highly recommended for older readers.
I've heard alot about Melvin Burgess but this it the first of his I've read and wasn't disappointed. Nicholas Dane is sent to a childrens home after his mother dies of a heroin overdose. There he learns the hard way about life in a boys home when he is sexually abused, tortured and beaten on a regular basis. Deciding to escape he leaves this world behind for 1980s inner city Britain and life on the streets with his mate Darren, under the care of Sunshine (Fagin) - petty crime and theft to earn a living. He keeps in touch with his mums friend and is in and out of care as his life spirals out of control when he comes under the attention of Jones (Sykes), who later turns out to also be a former inmate of Meadow Hill home for boys and then his life really does go downhill. I would have liked to see some resolution and justice for those boys who had been in the home, liked to have had closure on what happened to Oliver, although I think we all know, but liked the update of Nicholas's life at the end to round off the story.
Nicholas Dane is a compelling if uncomfortable read. It sensitively and resposibly conveys the appalling abuse that occured in some care homes in the not too distant past. The subject matter together with the nail-biting plot will hold you captivated, and you will still be thinking about this book a week after you've finished it. A disturbing book certainly, but then don't we need to be disturbed sometimes to initiate and sustain change?
This is a gritty book written with real sensitivity in places. The violence is a bit unrelenting but true to what some teenagers want to read. The allegory to Dicken's novel is well crafted and made contemporary: hard to imagine the characters singing 'Food Glorious Food' and other well known numbers.......could have done with a replacement rap!
I had this book on the shelf for a few months before I felt strong enough to read it. The blurbs I'd read about Nicholas Dane made it clear that this book goes to some painful places. And it did not disappoint.
Melvin Burgess tells this tale of abuse in children's homes unflinchingly - it's like being forced to gaze hard at a gruesome open wound. And yet one feels compassion for even the worst of the characters (like Jonesie, the Bill Sykes character)... as well as despair at the unrepentantly wrong-headed system that created him.
I could not put this book down, swinging from hope to frustration - knowing that this was based on true history made it even more soul destroying. This is no 'misery memoir' replacement. Nor are there easy endings or satisfying comeuppances.
Near the book's end, I was moved to tears by the line: 'Love comes to us all, if only we can recognise it and hold onto it'.
I put the book down amazed. Because after all that pain, Burgess had still managed the gift of a warm glimmer of hope.
It's vintage Burgess - unsettling and loveable at the same time.