Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Dear Charlie by N. D. Gomes

Dear Charlie is a powerful contemporary debut novel. Set in England in 1996/97, it deals with the aftermath of a school shooting. The book is narrated by Sam; 16 years old and brother of Charlie, the one who carried out the shootings before taking his own life. Sam is desperate to understand Charlie's actions and he is also dealing with the media frenzy, the anger and grief of local people and trying to grieve for the brother he loved but he's not sure if he really knew him. The book is Sam's letter to Charlie and his attempt to work his way through his own grief. 
The book opens with Sam's fear as he starts a new school. He is bullied and harassed but he simply accepts it making no complaint. He soon realises that there are a group who don't attack him and begins to sit with them and eventually make friends. This group of outsiders become Sam's lifeline. He is able to just be a normal teenager; hanging out after school, joking around, going to parties. Somehow Sam is able to pull himself through the tortuous final months of school and try to get his life back on track.
This is a very clever and important book. While the author doesn't try to offer any easy answers to the great question of why school shootings happen she does show us Sam's and his parents struggle with the shock, anger, guilt, grief and recovery. We see Sam slowly make progress in therapy and return to his music and the tentative recovery of a relationship with his parents who had each retreated into their own misery after the killings. 
The author grew up in Scotland and was studying at Stirling University not far from Dunblane when the tragic school massacre took place there. She went on to become a teacher specialising in special needs and she was teaching in the U.S. just a few hours away from the Sandy Hook school when the horrific shootings took place there in 2012. The author's interest in and understanding of vulnerable teenagers really shines through in the writing of this novel and I highly recommend it.

Published by HQ an imprint of Harper Collins on 20th. Thanks to Isobel Fenlon of Midas PR for a review copy of the book.

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