A victim of bullying at his old school, Elliot is determined to reinvent himself at his new school, Holminster. The coolly self-contained mask he presents to the world is so convincing that he is invited to join the Guardians, a sinister group of older boys who control by bullying and intimidation. 1984 is the Guardians’ bible but, as Elliot’s classmate Louise points out, although the hero of Orwell’s novel is eventually destroyed, he has survived by defying the system. Has Elliot the courage to do the same?
Reminiscent of Cormier’s now classic The Chocolate War, Gardner’s compelling novel convincingly creates a world in which intimidation is both normalised and internalised. Elliot tries to dissociate from what is happening but this, in turn, could bring about death of the self. His struggle for inner survival is subtly and powerfully drawn in this assured first novel. There will surely be much to look forward to from Gardner.