Doubleday, £12.99 Order for £11.99 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Boys Don't Cry, By Malorie Blackman

Matters of life and near-death

Its body was warm against mine. Its hair was soft and silky under my chin. And I hated it." So says schoolboy Dante, the main character in this troubling teenage novel. He is holding a baby daughter he had previously known nothing about, who has suddenly been dumped on him. His long-dead mother can't help, and a conscientious but strict father offers no easy get-out. So university plans have to be shelved, despite his four starred "A" passes, while Dante gets down to being a single father a few weeks short of his 18th birthday.

As in Silas Marner and practically every other novel involving the unexpected and initially unwelcome arrival of a new baby, one-year-old Emma gradually wins through, first with her grandfather and then with Adam, the younger brother. Dante takes longer, having to accept the loss of a girlfriend and peer group as well as his disappointment at giving up hopes of becoming a crusading journalist after graduation.

He slowly warms to his new charge, who fortunately has already gone through some of the more trying moments of a young life when living with her now-absent mother. But there is no disguising the unrelieved hard work involved. Dante finds himself wishing he had taken along a condom to that drunken party, and readers on the verge of their own adulthood will surely agree. This novel might even prove to be one extra tool in the battle to reduce Britain's disgracefully high teenage unwanted birth rate.

That is where the book could have finished. But Malorie Blackman has added a sub-plot which ultimately takes over in its urgency even this main concern. Dante's attractive 16-year-old brother, Adam, is gay, a fact he keeps hidden at home. But when a secret relationship goes disastrously wrong, he is beaten up to the point of nearly dying. Surviving with a mutilated face and doubting he will ever make it as an actor, he tries to kill himself.

Dante is intent on revenge, and more fists fly before a final resolution of sorts is brought about again by baby Emma. By now too much plot manipulation has crept into this story: unnecessarily, because Blackman is an effective enough writer already, with no need to over-egg her fictional puddings. The rest of this novel still shows her writing at its best, creating characters and a story which, once read, will not easily go away.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones