The narrative is led by Ian, a 14-year-old schoolboy, at the hospital bed of his best friend Stolly (Stuart Terence Oliver). Stolly is just recovering from a serious fall, which may or may not have been from an attempt at suicide, which has left him with breaks and bruises and concussed. To pass the time before Stolly wakes, Ian uses his rough book to remember events of his and Stolly’s friendship, stretching back to when they were both toddlers. These memories are interspersed with the comings-and-goings in the hospital ward as Ian’s parents and Stolly’s dad come and go and the hospital staff and social workers try to find out what happened.
Through Ian’s memories, we discover that Stolly is a remarkable young man, full of enthusiasms and voluble with his knowledge and ponderings while prone to fits of melancholic introspection. This trip to hospital is simply the most serious of a lifelong tendency to accidents not least on account of his happy-go-lucky attitude.
All the characters are quite real and quite normal, with the possible exception of the plainclothes policewoman and hospital social worker-type who are classed as enemies as they clearly don’t know Stolly enough to understand what might have led to his fall from a top-floor window. (We don’t know in the end what really happened to Stolly, but Ian knows that he’ll find out.) Even the teachers at school are real people who want their pupils to be able to learn and pass the exams they must.
The book is primarily about unstinting love, love without sentiment. The love of Ian’s parents who adopted him without being able to tell him a single thing about his background. The love of Ian and his family for their idiosyncractic and occasionally exasperating neighbour and his family. The (unspoken) friendship of Ian and Stolly for each other, each supporting the other in his own way. And, although not obvious, the love of Stolly’s parents for their son.
Although the principal characters are about fourteen years old there’s nothing that couldn’t be read and understood by an eleven-year-old. Look out for Stolly’s explanation of how boys do have feelings but must hide them at school because of the invisible scorecard. Laugh when Stolly finds a school uniform for a boy thrown out of an exam without one. And, I suppose, cry when Ian tries to get through to Stolly by reminding them of all the good times they’d had together.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.