Seventeen-year old Dante is waiting for a delivery that will change his life. But rather than the A-level results he’s anxiously awaiting, his ex girlfriend turns up with a baby. Surprised after not seeing her for more than a year he’s a little annoyed, but when Melanie drops the bombshell that the little girl, Emma, is his daughter all Dante’s plans vanish before his eyes. But it doesn’t end there, after asking him to take care of the child while she nips to the shop Melanie does a runner and he’s left literally holding the baby.
I was fascinated by this book from the moment I heard about it. I’ve read many books and articles on young single mums, but never from a teen dad’s. Boys Don’t Cry is a stunning novel with thought provoking topics subtly raised on every page and will speak volumes to the teens it’s targeted towards.
Dante is clever and ambitious, hoping for knockout A-level results and knows what he wants to do with his life. Brought up by his single father after the tragic and early death of his mother, he struggles sometimes with a stifling relationship with his own Dad and sways between irritation and dogged loyalty and protectiveness of his more vulnerable younger brother, Adam. He’s determined to make something of his life and knows what he has to do to get there, so when Melanie turns up with Emma and drops her bombshell his anxiety, fear, panic and resentment are tangible. There’s nothing pretty about Malorie Blackman’s story, she lays the difficulties and emotions he feels down bare, no matter how ugly.
What I loved about Boys Don’t cry is how it shows Teen parenting from a different angle. While reading this book I felt very sorry for Dante, and questioned myself regularly whether I felt more sympathy because he was a boy, rather than a girl. Teen mum’s are vilified daily, yet most probably found themselves in a situation from one reckless mistake just like Dante did. Even in this book I thought it might have been easy to write Melanie off as the bad one, for getting pregnant in the first place then dumping the baby with Dante, but Malorie Blackman’s writing allows the reader to constantly question and ponder such subjects without forcing opinions on her audience.
The book is packed with challenges to stereotypes throughout. As a single teen father, Dante finds support from outside agencies difficult to come by. Making a doctors appointment for example is a nightmare. He’s not on Emma’s birth certificate as he didn’t even know of her existence then and so can’t register her without her Mother. Of course he doesn’t know where her Mother is, and the obstacles and bureaucracy he comes up against is shocking. A visit from a social worker concerned that a baby in the care of three males may be in danger is also frustratingly accurate and Dante rightly questions her attitude and whether it would be the same were he female.
What surprised me about Boys Don’t Cry was that it turned out not just to be Dante’s story of teen fatherhood but his brother’s story is equally as important. Told in alternating chapters from Dante and Adam, we meet a young boy, comfortable with his own sexuality but struggling with a world that isn’t. I adored Adam, whose wit, quirkiness and quiet strength proves to be the backbone of the family. There’s an equally strong message of acceptance in this book, which again won’t fail to provoke thought and reflection on the reader. And their father also has a huge part to play. Somewhat overbearing on first appearances, I think the relationship between both boys and their father will resonate with many and may go someway in helping us see our own parents in a different light.
Boys Don’t Cry is an amazing book from start to finish. Not only does it show males of different situations in a positive light, it really makes you think about the pressure put upon boys to hide their emotions and how damaging that can be. It challenges stereotypes on every page through its three strong male characters. And it reminds you that no matter who you are or how unconventional your family, respect, acceptance and love makes all the difference. If I were to recommend one must read book of contemporary fiction to teenagers then this would be it.
Published by DoubleDay Children’s Books 28th October 2010
Thanks to the publishers for sending me this copy for review.