by Malachy Doyle

Published by Bloomsbury

155 pages, 2001

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Joanne's Gift

Reviewed by Monica Stark


At the crack of the new millennium, I seem to be unable to consider the state of children's books without considering J.K. -- Joanne -- Rowling. Even if you've never heard of Rowling or her creation, Harry Potter, if you've looked at current children's books -- especially those written for young adults -- you've felt her influence.

Of course, a lot more books for children feature wizards or some sort of magic these days. But that's not the sort of influence I'm talking about. Rather, the almost unthinkable success of Rowling's creation has had an interesting effect on the whole industry.

In the first place, the runaway success of a really differently told story seems to have made some children's publishers more adventurous in the titles they're choosing: a boon in an industry that's often more trite than truthful. And, just as important, the financial success of the Potter books has given the handful of publishers involved with it internationally a good healthy dose of cash. The nice thing about cash in a publisher's hands is that some of it gets earmarked for new projects. Special projects that would be harder to place in a less affluent time. Especially since, as Rowling has proven, kids will read, if only you come up with something they want.

Now, I don't know for a fact that Georgie, Malachy Doyle's first young adult novel, came to be published for any of these reasons, but, upon reading it, you have to suspect that it was. In leaner, less experimental times, it's difficult to imagine that the first person story of a deeply disturbed child in special care would see print: at least, not if it was aimed at this age group.

The altogether unconventional story deals with a 14-year-old boy who hasn't spoken for as long as those who care for him can remember. Over time, the difficult child has digressed and, as the story opens, he lives little better than an animal: alone in a bare room, often naked and in his own filth.

Some home. A mattress on a bare floor. Because that's all I've got left. All I've got left in the whole world.

I wreck everything, that's why. Everything they give me, everything I ever owned. I rip it, break it or piss on it.

Too difficult for the home he's been assigned to, Georgie is moved to another facility. Here he is befriended by a girl named Shannon whose past is similar to Georgie's. She's made headway, though, by the time they meet, and she feels compelled to help him make the strides he must in order to rejoin society. Part of the story is narrated by Shannon and her observations are keen:

Yeah, we're messed up, every one of us. Problem kids, they call us, but I've been thinking about that. There's a lot of time for thinking, round here. And it's not us that's the problem, that's what I've come to realise. It's the adults. The ones out there, the ones that are supposed to look after us and don't. The bastards who mess up their own lives and then take it out on their kids. They're the problem.

Clearly, Georgie is occasionally dark and almost always gritty but, it's a surprisingly hopeful story. If there's a message here it's about understanding and learning that things are not always what they seem.

Georgie is Malachy Doyle's first young adult novel, though certainly not his first book. His other books are aimed at younger children and include Owen and the Mountain, Well, a Crocodile Can!, Jody's Beans and many others. The former secondary school teacher and special care worker was born in Northern Ireland and now makes his home in Wales. | October 2001


Monica Stark is a freelance writer and editor.