A flattened Irn-Bru can chucked down a canal bank kicks off a typically surprising and moving novel from Costa Book Award winner Brian Conaghan. The can is thrown by twelve-year-old Lenny, who drinks an awful lot of the stuff. Like many of Conaghan’s heroes, Lenny is bullied at school – it’s because of his weight – but out of it too, one attack leading to life-changing consequences for his family. The can lands close to the cardboard shelter that is home to Bruce, another lonely outsider, and despite this inauspicious start, and the age-gap (Bruce is 52), the two form a special friendship. Perhaps their relationship isn’t as unlikely as it might seem: he may only be twelve, but Lenny is a thinker and indeed a poet – the book is scattered with his haikus, which Conaghan manages to make both gawkish and poignant. It’s the combination of his friendship with Bruce, who has his own heart-breaking experience of disaster, and the opportunities for self-expression that the haikus provide, that allow Lenny to work out for himself and for us, what is the most painful aspect of the situation he and his family are in, and how to put it right. Conaghan has a great ear for dialogue and Lenny’s narration is one of the many pleasures of this book. It’s probably his voice that steers what might have been rather a sentimental and improbable story onto different ground altogether. Lenny’s honesty, whether describing his feelings or his long-distance lorry driver dad’s smell – is irresistible and we are in the palm of his hand from start to finish. Conaghan has previously written for teenagers but seems to have relished writing for younger readers, and the book is funny, authentic and heart-warming.
Brian Conaghan was the subject of our Authorgraph interview, BfK 230 (May 2018).