Tuesday 29 March 2016

Swan Boy by Nikki Sheehan

Liam Clark started it. In Regent's Park, with the sandwich. 
There were four of them, all Populars, with the confidence and the trainers to match, laughing as they smeared mushed swan droppings on the the slice of bread.

Published in May 2016 by Rock The Boat, an imprint of One World Publications. 
Pages - 228
Cover design - Nathan Burton

When Johnny moves house and starts a new school he has to deal with a bully who can't leave him alone. But help comes from an unexpected and surprising source and Johnny's growing power soon puts him in a very special place.
A chance encounter with a swan sparks a series of events that result in Johnny playing the lead in a school ballet. His teacher wants him to live the role, and when feathers start sprouting on his chest, Johnny begins to understand his true potential. But will he be strong or brave enough to beat his bullies, take care of his brother, support his mother and find a place for himself among all the chaos that is prevailing in his life.
Recently I read that magical realism was coming back into fashion. Well, Nikki Sheehan is most definitely waving the flag for the new phase, with Swan Boy. The magical realism in the story is so subtle and realistic that you question whether it is truly there. It reminded me of The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw. Nikki Sheehan makes magic seem like it is a natural part of every day life. 

This book has a Billy Elliot feel to it. As Johnny finds himself dancing in a modern version of Swan Lake, you watch him go from disbelief in himself to completely believing in his abilities. I could easily imagine Johnny soaring through the sky as he leapt. 

There are elements of this story that will stay with me forever. Purely because they are so unusual. I won't give anything away because I don't want to spoil it for you, but you will know when you reach these elements.

The main characters are soulfully written, each burrowing into your heart. Johnny showed such inner strength as he dealt with all the bullying that occurred. Mojo completely stole my heart. His drawings and how they meant so much to him - it was like he was completely opening up his insecurities and worries and laying them out for everyone to see, they just had to open their eyes and look closely to really see. We can only stand as spectators as the family work their way through the five stages of grieving as they deal with the sudden loss of their father. 

I loved the inclusion of the swans, real and metaphorically throughout the book. Such a majestic and mystical bird that added strength and determination to Jonny's character. 

By the end of the book we see a transformation within Johnny. I honestly believe he becomes the person he is supposed to come. This is a true coming of age tale as Johnny transforms from the boy he once was to the man he will become. Through his decisions and actions he faces the consequences of his choices to really be who he is supposed to be. 

This book is beautifully written with a surprising element of quirkiness and smatterings of humour. Truly an original. 

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