London, Penguin, 2010, 81p
I enjoy a good short read - it's a welcome break from teenage fiction of a ridiculously high standard. However, sometimes the lack of length has a detrimental effect upon the quality of the book. This story has a brilliant ending, but I could see it coming.
Hello Mum is a letter written to a mother by her son. JJ, the protagonist, is a gentlemanly young man, but is unlucky to be lacking in opportunities. He is the kind of lad trapped in the cycle of poverty, unable to move up or move out. He is a good kid, though somewhat disillusioned. He wants to fit in and belong; he wants protection. The story is about a day in which he finally gets the chance to be part of something, and finds himself wishing he wasn't there.
I was once told in a creative writing workshop that writing allows us to be whoever we want to be. We should explore writing about experiences or people we do not know about. I tend to disagree, as such books are often lacking in credibility. Research is at the heart of a brilliant story. Understanding and experience are tools for inspiration.
Which brings me to my problem with this book. I wasn't completely convinced. I couldn't forget the fact that Bernadine Evaristo is an older woman, writing about a 14-year-old inner city boy; though she clearly went to a lot of effort to make her story realistic. Admittedly, I am no more experience in the life of a young gang member; but I fear that if a kid like JJ read this book, he would laugh at the slang, the clothes, and the outsider's perspective on such life.