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  • Boy A
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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Boy A
Format: Paperback|Change

on 17 April 2017
I wasn't really 'into' this.

'Jack' has finally been released from prison after serving a sentence for a brutal crime when he was a child. He is given a new identity and taken far from his home town in order to start a new life.

For me, this wasn't very well written and actually quite dull and slow-going. A decent enough concept for a story but not well executed. Glad to be finished.
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A hard-hitting yet compelling novel examining what it means to be imprisoned as a child and released under a false identity. Boy A is one of two boys tried and convicted of the murder of another child. Although there are echoes of a trial here in the UK this isn’t in anyway an examination of that crime with much of the book concentrating on what happens next.

Boy A chooses a new name, Jack Burridge, to preserve his anonymity which is part of the terms of his release and then with the help of his ‘uncle’ Terry who had been a member of staff at the home he was first sent to follow his conviction. One of the minimal number of people who know Jack’s true identity. Jack has a job but first he must learn what it is like to live in a world he last left as a child.

The book skips backwards and forwards through the time periods from before Boy A met Boy B to after he left the adult prison with his new name. Each chapter starts with a letter of the alphabet starting with A is for Apple. A Bad Apple. All the way through to Z, which is for Zero in case you are wondering. Just finding the titles that match the content of each chapter must have been a challenge and the sparse language used with its short sentences is perfect for the subject matter. This book feels like a work of art as well as a captivating tale.

Fortunately, given the tough subject matter, the torn sympathies as Boy A’s life is revealed through not just his own eyes, but later on, his father’s too, there are some humorous parts to the book too, most predictably when Jack meets a girl and the attraction is mutual, but most often it is bittersweet humour with a shared moment with a cellmate before his monotonous life rolls onwards.

As we see the horrors Jack endured in prison it is almost odd that my sympathies were highest when he starts his new job and makes friends, and of course a girlfriend Michelle. It is here that it becomes apparent how hard it is to hide your entire life up to a point in your twenties. As Jack becomes close to those around him, his enormous secret puts a boundary up between them as he unwillingly hands out lies to cover the truth.
But nor is this book just about Boy A, Terry and his life at the point where they overlap tells a different story, a fairly normal one of a broken marriage leading to a strained relationship with his own son as he also guards the truth and builds the lies of the life he hopes to see prove that rehabilitation is possible.

The way the stories of Boy A, his parents, Boy B, Terry the psychologist along with Jack’s new friends and his girlfriend all intertwine, create a thought-provoking and compelling read. The book is just the right length the author resisting the urge to brow beat the reader and the ending perfectly pitched. A book to ponder over and in the end marvel at how in the right hands, such an emotive topic can be explored.
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At long last, I've finally gotten around to reading Boy A. I really enjoyed the film adaptation of this novel some years ago and wanted to leave a good while before reading the book. I was prompted to pick it up by the fact that Daniel Clay's novel; 'Broken' is about to be adapted by the same director.

Boy A is one of those novels that will make you 'think'. Putting aside the sensationalist media reports about recent children who have killed, the reader can get a glimpse into what life could be like for someone who has been convicted of a very serious offence.

Powerful, gripping and of course, sparking controversy, but never trite, never overly emotional - hard-hitting and gripping writing.

Very highly recommended.
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on 6 January 2008
Reading the publisher's blurb gives you an idea of the plot but reading the book is something different. Boy A is "reborn" following a spell in various prison establishments and is let free. This is his story - but as we go through the chapters of the novel, each one starting with a letter of the alphabet, his backstory is revealed - it seems that Boy A can never escape his past, despite having done the time for his crime.

The reader is made to feel something of a voyeur - because the shame of Boy A (now called Jack) is so deep. There are indications that Boy A is in the same position as one of the killers of Jamie Bulger - of being described by the media as a monster who has done something unforgiveable and inhuman. The reader is put in the position, frequently, of the public. There are allusions to the publicity surrounding the crime in the tabloids, and the role of the media in Jack's life is fundamental to the plot: despite the theory of crime and punishment, it seems that there can be no redemption, and no new rebirth.

The author intends us to feel not only pity for the protagonist, but also to explain how he has come to be this way - exploring through the medium of the old case files and the history of Boy A how he has never received the love and attention that would have led him to grow up as a socially responsible member of society, and thus how Boy A has lacked the appropriate stimuli to develop properly. There is even the possibility that Boy A was the accomplice to the crime committed by the other boy, and that he was unaware of the extent of the crime caused. As a child he has been tried in an adult court, and both prior and post sentence, he has never really been cared for by adults. Only his cell mate and his probation officer have a link with him.

Above all, this is a story about love and the lack of it, and of innocence and corruption - Jack's probation officer has formed more of a close relationship with Jack than with his own son, from whom he is estranged following his divorce from his wife. The denouement centres around jealousy and envy - Zed being the complete opposite of Boy A, yet someone who lives within the law as it is understood by the media.

If I were to summarize the obvious about this book it would be "hug a hoodie". But this misses out the way that the book plays to the reader - rather carefully manipulating the reader throughout, so we are put through a mixture of responses (voyeurism, shock, horror, sympathy, empathy, distaste and judgement) as we work through the alphabet of who Jack is: Jack the lad, Jack of all trades, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy - and who he might, with a bit of luck, become.

This is an excellent novel, and worth spending time on, if only to explore your own reactions to the situations described.
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on 3 January 2008
Boy A by Jonathan Trigell was first published in 2004 but reissued this year as being filmed for Channel 4. Despite its title, it is not of the "I had an awful childhood but survived so that you could feel good" genre. It's a fictional account of Jack (Boy A) and the events that lead up to and from his release from prison on license. He was a child murder of a child...or was he? Think of the 10 year old child murders of James Bulger in 1993 and the consequences should one of them try and rehabilitate back into society as adults. The crime paid for...but can the murder of an innocent ever be paid for? Is revenge more important then justice or forgiveness?

This is not a fractional account of what if, rather it explores the notion of what is evil and that love need actions for it to be love. However, it does this not by heavy moralizing and cut out figures that act as pegs for this or that idea. But is a post modernist novel in that we jump into other characters heads, and go up and down time over 26 chapters that follow the alphabet. But fear not, you don't have to rush back to your Agatha Christie as this creates a sense of foreboding and suspense.

During the course of the story we get inside Jack's head as he struggles to understand the world he has not seen since he was 10, and adjust to having a best friend (Chris) and even a girlfriend (Mitchell). But all the time his secret holds him back so he can never be truthful, never real with them. He is helped by his probationary officer (Terry), who genuinely cares for him and stands by him but at the expense of his own son's welfare with tragic consequences. In and out of this story we also find out what Boy A and Boy B did and the if's and what's of Boy A's deeds. We also see the consequences of parents not caring for their child and the indifferences of schools to bullying. But also us , the general public, and our responses to cases like this and the newspaper campaigns we support that forget the child and man as we become a lynch mob.

I found it a genuine page turner from the first few sentences that grips you with an urgency of trying to discover who and what the betrayal will be. Its short sentences, switches in time and character move the story along so that in the end you have to try and deicide if it's a battle of Evil versus Good. Or is it the battle that each of us face in tying to relate to others in love?

So would I recommend it? Well if you want cloying sentimentality, or a morality of black and white this is not the book for you. But if you want one that explores moral ambiguity and what love if not explored honesty leads to, then this is the book for you.
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on 1 February 2010
Reading the blurb on this book, I wasn't sure how I would feel about reading this. In a plot that clearly takes its influence from the Jamie Bolger murder, it is bound to be a book that draws conflicting emotions from the reader. On the one hand you have a young girl, whose life is taken away at a devastatingly young age. Of course she is the innocent in this case and her murderers should be punished. But on the other, the lives of the young murders are destroyed forever by this one event, can you judge someone for the rest of their lives based on making such a huge error in judgment?

Before reading this, I would have been sure I could never sympathize with a killer, never mind someone who kills a child. But Jack does not come across as a killer, he comes across as an ordinary young guy just trying to make the best of things. He is likable, mostly for his naivety and his loyalty to his friends and his case worker Terry.

Mostly this book made me question a lot of things. Like how would I react if I realised I worked with someone who killed a child? Should people who have served their time be given a clean slate, or should they forever be tarred with that same brush? Also from a media perspective, how far should the media be able to go with reporting on high profile cases?

This book deserves all the praise it has gotten, I'd recommend to anyone who wants to read something that makes them think.
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VINE VOICEon 12 January 2009
This was a very clever book that rightfully earned the accolades it has accrued. We read it for a book group and it engendered some lively discussion about the fate of young offenders.

I was impressed how we were persuaded to feel affection for a character who we believed had committed an atrocity as a 10 year old, in spite of the unacceptable nature of his deed. We almost forgave him his 'misdemenour' as he made his way through life as a naiive young adult.

The author has a wonderful way with words - I particularly liked the quote: "He dunks a chunk of his tomato into the ketchup, before he realizes the absurdity of the action, and then finds that, in fact, even tomato is improved with ketchup".

Boy A does not slot into life on the "outside" easily and I think it is the way he genuinely struggles to make a go of it that endears him to the reader; we have the advantage of viewing his life from the inside and it is this that distinguishes him from other offenders.

The book certainly provides lots of food for thought and grounds for discussion. In fact several members of our reading group were reluctant to read it because of the subject matter, and in the end were very glad that they had.

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on 20 May 2015
I reads this book almost immediately after watching the film. The film whilst great does not get you into the mind of the characters as much as the book does. The book is easy to read and you can't help liking the main character despite his past. I would recommend reading it before seeing the film however as their are differences and reading the book second left me slightly confused - but this is a great read and a most excellent debut novel
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on 30 July 2009
Boy A

This is a must read - but an uncomfortable book to read - very thought provoking. Boy A, as a child, committed the most horrific, chilling crime. Newly released from jail, with a new identity to give him a fresh start, and to keep him safe from public outrage and revenge, he has to learn how to live again.

How clever the author is to make us feel real sympathy for the offender. Despite the horror of his crime, we really want him to adapt better to the outside world and move on. So there is a real see-saw of emotions here - revulsion at the crime, an empathy for the awkwardness of the square peg in the round hole.

Extraordinary - 4.5 stars!
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VINE VOICEon 20 February 2008
A cleverly written account of a boy who has had to do most of his growing up in detention centres and prison. He is now 24 and is having to deal with a new experience...freedom...or is it?

Having been helped to choose a new name he has to try and learn how to fit into a life most of us take for granted. Meanwhile the media (red top newspapers specifically) bay for blood using photograph enhancements to guess what he looks like now and campaigns for the public to "...know who's living down their street."

As we read we learn about Jack both before his crime as well as the man he's trying to become. It is not however a story that cries out for sympathy 'because I had an unfortunate childhood'. It is far more subtle than that.
I like the way the chapters are alphabetically titled ("A is for Apple. A Bad Apple" / "T is for Time. Teachers and Trainers") which highlights the child Jack was, as well as relating to his experiences in life.

A disturbing story which we can all relate to in some form, even if only from the baying for blood/lynch mob mentality we saw at the time of the Jamie Bulger case. Whether it's the 'red top' readers who will be likely to read it though is another matter!
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