Amazon Vine offered me the latest novel by Carnegie Medal winner, Kevin Brooks to review a few weeks ago. After reading and being traumatised by The Bunker Diary, I was somewhat hesitant. Then I pulled myself together and said yes. I didn’t enjoy The Bunker Diary, but I admit that it was a compelling read and every teenager I’ve spoken to who has read it, including my thirteen year old, loved it. I decided to give him another go.
Born Scared is a very different kettle of fish to The Bunker Diary. It is still quite a traumatic read, but the difference in this book for me, was the very real sense of hope in the book, something I found missing in The Bunker Diary and which was one of the reasons I found it so hard to finish.
In this book we meet Elliot. Elliot is a teenage boy who is absolutely terrified of almost everything, to such an extent that he is a lock in in his own house. Elliot narrates the novel, and according to Elliot, he has been this way since birth. Elliot believes that he remembers his birth, and that he also remembers his twin sister, Ellamay, who died an hour after they were born. Elliot believes that Ellamay is still with him, and his conversations with her litter the book.
The action in the book takes place over the course of one, traumatic day. Elliot, thanks to a mess up at the local pharmacy is almost out of the anti-anxiety drugs which are one of the only things that make his life, such as it is, liveable. His mother, not wanting to leave him, asks a friend to pick them up for her. When the friend doesn’t arrive, his mother sets out in a snow storm to retrieve them. It is when she doesn’t come back that Elliot has to take action.
This is an extraordinary book in many ways. It’s tense and absorbing and I piled through it in a couple of hours. What makes it extraordinary in my opinion is the way that Brooks handles the character of Elliot. There are no excuses or rationalisations of Elliot’s behaviour. There are no neat explanations, we are just dumped right in the middle of Elliot’s world and his mind is our filter for the whole novel.
Elliot is forced outside of his comfort zone with spectacular results, as are several other characters in the book, who may be considered normal. Brooks pushes them all to the edge and then over, and the book is littered with stories of how people behave in extreme situations.
What I thought was particularly effective was the fact that although the action of the story is completed so that the novel ends neatly, there is no sense of what happens to each of the characters afterwards, and how what they experience on this intense day, shapes them in the future, and I really wanted to know.
The book would be suitable for the pre-teen market, unlike The Bunker Diaries, because although there are episodes of violence they are not too extreme, and are resolved within the plot. I’d recommend it for children aged 10 and up. It would work for both boys and girls.