Sophie McKenzie on a book that is both humorous and heart-breaking…
The Cartoonistgrabs you on the first page and never lets you go. It’s a slight plot – but a gripping story. I love it for the naturalness of its dialogue and the effortlessly deft characterisation, from Alfie’s TV-fixated Mom, who idolises her absent son Bubba at Alfie’s expense, to his responsible and understanding sister Alma.
The story manages to be both humorous and heartbreaking. My nine-year-old son, a highly reluctant reader at the time, listened transfixed as I read from cover to cover.
Alfie lives to draw cartoon strips. Through these – through the development of his own creativity – he finds a home, somewhere he can be himself. The physical space where this happens is the attic of his family’s house – the only place where Alfie can draw and think in peace.
And then this special place comes under threat as Mom decides to move the favoured older brother back home. There are no fireworks here. The story ends without a big climax – but it is all the more convincing for that, as Alfie learns to come to terms with his lot. This is what growing up really feels like – the sense of yourself as apart and alone – but also the realisation that you are free to develop your own hopes and dreams as well. Brilliant!
The Cartoonist by Betsy Byars is available via Amazon.
Sophie McKenzie’s next book is The Set-up, the first part of ‘The Medusa Project’, published by Simon & Schuster (978 1 84738 525 3, £6.99 pbk).