Wednesday, 19 March 2014

PBOTD: 19th March, Sheena Wilkinson - Taking Flight

Today's PBOTD is a modern book: Taking Flight (2009) by Sheena Wilkinson. Boys don't appear often in modern British horse stories, let alone disaffected, out of control teenagers from Belfast. Declan's mother is an alcoholic, and Declan is one of those boys school labels a problem right from the start. When Declan's mother is hospitalised after a particularly florid episode, Declan goes to stay with his aunt and cousin. His aunt has done well: her daughter Vicky has a horse.

Little Island, 2009
Declan turns out to have an affinity for horses, but this doesn't mean his life instantly goes right. Vicky is furiously jealous of Declan's abilities, resents his arrival into her life, and takes action on her dislike. Sheena Wilkinson succeeds in making Vicky's very brattish behaviour believable, but still keeps you on her side. Indeed the strength of this very good book is that you are on both characters' sides: however horrible their behaviour is, and both them are pretty foul at times.

Declan is ambivalent about the skill he suddenly finds he possesses. His only future had seemed to be a rapid descent into crime, and once he's presented with another way forward, it is not one he is necessarily eager to take. Declan's ability to shoot himself in the foot, time after time, will ring all sorts of bells if you have a teenage child. The wilful refusal to listen and see sense is utterly believable. It's not just the teenagers who are believable: the adults are too. Vicky's parents, divorced, tiptoe round her. At Declan's school, the teachers are divided between those who have written Declan off, and those who keep on and on trying with him, convinced that he can be set on a better path. This is a real world.

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Taking Flight was published in Dublin by Little Island in 2009. There have been no further editions. For more on the author and her books, you might like to see her page on my website.

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