Title: Boy 87
Author: Ele Fountain
This is a short and deceptively simple book, following fourteen-year-old Shif as he makes the dangerous journey from his home in Africa to find safety in Europe. The plot is straightforward, and the first-person narration is pared-back, childlike, and sincere. At first glance, the storytelling feels simple, but there is just enough here to allow the reader to connect with Shif, and to experience the frightening events of the story with him. The elegant, spare language gives the reader clear insights into Shif’s character, his hopes and dreams for the future, and his ability to survive the trials of the journey. Nothing is over-dramatised, but the threats and the danger feel real.
With its simple storytelling and short length, Boy 87 feels like a book for younger children, but the events Shif describes require a YA level of maturity to understand and connect with. As an adult I found the story truly frightening, imagining what it would feel like to have to leave your home, escape to another country, and trust people smugglers to take you on the dangerous sea-crossing. This isn’t heroic YA. It isn’t a story of adventure or triumph. But it is an insight into the motivations of the migrants who try again and again to reach safety in Europe. Shif’s experiences are relatable, haunting, and undoubtedly realistic, and the book would make a great introduction to the subject of migration, majority/minority world politics, and the value of human life.
Boy 87 is an easy but thought-provoking read, and an effective introduction to an important contemporary subject. Definitely recommended.
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Review cross-posted to GoodReads.
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