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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
This Boy
Format: Kindle Edition|Change

TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 14 April 2015
It seems appropriate that as we near another General Election, our Book club should chose this early memoir of a man who grew into a politician of stature and good repute.

As I am an exact contemporary of A A Johnson, being born only months later than him in 1950, this is a reminder rather than an education. I also lived in London then, I too played on bomb sites covered in Rose Bay Willow Herb which were littered with debris. I was not shocked by the squalor or basic living conditions as others may be, or as surprised as some by the hardships this tiny family endured. What he calls a urine bucket we called a potty, paraffin heaters were quite usual and central heating unheard of. Lino and rugs did cover floor and wall to wall carpet an unimaginable luxury. Books shut and locked away in glass cases were also de rigeur, and public libraries our spiritual homes. Schools were not concerned with domestic situations, they did not assume the role of social workers.

However it was the anguish of living with a mother who was dreadfully ill, abandoned by a feckless husband, always living on tick and trying to make ends meet, all the while hoping for rehousing and their 'own front door'. Luckily sister Linda, to whom this book is dedicated and to whom it is truly a hymn of praise, saved the day by fighting like a tiger mother for her brother, keeping them together whatever. It should be noted that sixteen years olds then were not considered children, they had to work, further education was rare and open to only a few. a large proportion left home voluntarily at sixteen, never to return.

Points I would like to make - for a boy who frequently dined on Oxo 'soup' with stale bread floating in it and had to go days with only one meal - school dinner - he looks to be a remarkably chubby, happy and well grown five year old in the photos. Also there is nothing to be ashamed of having the name Arthur, it is a fine name, not one to hide away. Plus he passed the ElevenPlus as I did, a defining success that gave him every chance he could hope for, yet he stayed away from school for long periods faking illness or slow recovery from it. Lugging coals around in a old pram, picking up horse manure, delivering paraffin and milk, he worked hard as a little man, as we all did, paper rounds for twelve years olds etc were quite usual. Different times and standards were not the same, parents let go more freely and children brought themselves up amongst hunger, deprivation, bullying from teachers and classmates alike. The strongest steel is forged in the hottest furnace.

The book closes as Alan is married, and a father not even twenty, and setting out on what looks to be a life long career in the Post Office. This generation had never heard of portfolio careers and skipping about from job to job was seen as irresponsible, disloyal and insecure. Yes, different times indeed. The next book will surely reveal the route he takes to become Home Secretary.

Light relief is provided by Alan's visions of his future as a pop star or a writer, one which ambitions is certainly come true with this prize winning read.
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on 30 June 2017
Avoids sentimentality by virtue of his matter-of-fact reportage of growing up in North Kensington, London. Think Angela's Ashes-lite though this is not to denigrate either book. His mother and sister are lovingly but no way cloyingly described, his father should bow his head in shame (in Hades now though again the hyperbole is mine not the writer's). So many apercus of working-class 1950s life, including the moving episode of Cheeky the dog ( whose nemesis is Alan Johnson's absent father) and our young protagonist's witnessing of teenage flirting. To think the author was to become Home Secretary. As testament to this first volume one certainly wants to read on.
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on 26 December 2014
Absolutely excellent. Extremely easy to read, informative and illuminating. Alan, his single mother and sister Linda survived almost uninhabitable conditions right into the 1960s. I was amazed such accommodation still prevailed as late as that. I am in awe of Alan Johnson and his sister rising above such a start life to become commendable citizens. Much deserved credit to Alan's sister Linda for the way she took over their mother's role, bringing up Alan until he was able to be independent, whilst dealing with numerous difficulties. Alan writes in a readable, entertaining manner, but it would also be inspiring to hear Linda's story, written from her own perspective. Thank you for sharing your memories.
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on 27 July 2017
A great read. Alan Johnson suffered miserably in his early life, but he's written his book without feeling sorry for himself. Sure, there are some incredibly sad moments, but also plenty of humour and hardly a whiff of politics. This is how life was for Alan because he didn't have a choice in the matter, so he just got on with it. I now know the man better and have complete respect for him.
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on 25 June 2017
Johnson's no Hemingway, but he describes the true poverty of the early fifties with eye-opening clarity. I also had no idea he was seriously set on becoming a pop musician in his teens.
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on 9 April 2017
Great read, I'd recommend this to friends who don't actually like politics because it's more a story of a boy growing up in difficult circumstances at a time when the country was rebuilding for the better, rather than a political autobiography. Johnson is at times philosophical, but it's gentle, and it's secondary to a plot which is moving and often funny.
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on 1 June 2017
I loved this book. It took me back to the world of my childhood and reminded me of things I have forgotten. My only regret was that I finished the book but will read again soon.
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on 22 May 2013
Wonderful book, well written with complete humility. What a remarkable upbringing Johnson had. To come through it all and make such a success of his life is testament, not only to his own perseverance, but also the love and tenacious spirit of his mother and sister. I fully recommended this book.
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on 11 June 2017
A vivid and utterly compelling story of childhood . Of hardship, and hard times which are nowadays hard to comprehend, but ultimately of triumph . Recounted with direct honesty and without rancour, and acknowledging the heroines of story- Alan's incredible sister and mother. An unmissable read to learn of times past and stir your emotions.
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on 3 October 2017
Truly an absorbing read
Through the eyes of Alan, its easy to picture his life and the wonderful sister and Mother he had
Will be reading this again
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