Malorie Blackman’s writing has always ventured fearlessly into contentious issues and Boys Don’t Cry is no exception. 17-year-old Dante is precociously intelligent. Certain to achieve outstanding results at A-level, he is looking forward to beginning university a year early. His emotional intelligence does not quite match his academic achievement, however, and he has all the typical self-centred preoccupations of a boy of his age.
As a result, when his ex-girlfriend Melanie breaks a two-year silence and visits him with a baby in tow, it does not occur to him for a moment that the child is his – the product of a brief and unsatisfactory drunken fumble at a friend’s party. Melanie, unable to cope with the continuing responsibility, leaves their daughter with him. His determination to go to university and rid himself of this burden, immediately spurs him to research the possibility of having her adopted or taken into care. The baby is simply an impediment to his ambitions, a nuisance to be dealt with.
The metamorphosis from repugnance to devotion is perhaps too easily achieved, a reaction to an insulting remark made carelessly by one of Dante’s friends when he has the temerity – and stupidity – to take her to the end of exams celebration party at the local bar. However, the difficulties and frustrations of life with a baby are clearly and convincingly described and the experience is leavened only by the support of Dante’s immediate family.
Here Blackman interweaves another thought-provoking strand – Dante’s brother Adam is gay and a secret relationship with one of Dante’s closest friends who is afraid of publicly revealing his sexual proclivities results in a vicious beating which damages Adam both physically and emotionally. Again, it is the baby who is the catalyst for healing, her natural innocence almost giving her a wisdom beyond her years which does not always ring entirely true.
However, these occasional leanings towards sentimentality do little to damage the impact of a book which demands attention for the quality of its writing, the courage of its storylines and the valuable contribution it would make to the PHSE curriculum.