Boy 87 came frighteningly close to becoming too much for me as a reader. As I read on, there was one stage where I was filled with a sickening sense of dread. I remembered Chalkline, which I could not finish reading because it was so well told that the story was overwhelmingly traumatic for me – more than I could take. And then I also remembered The Bone Sparrow, a wonderful tale of war and hope.
Boy 87 fits somewhere between the two. At the stage when I was not sure if I could read on, I quickly skimmed through a few of the concluding pages. Was Shif going to be betrayed? Was something terrible going to happen?
I never do this. But the dread was so sickening that I knew I would not be able to read it if things grew more traumatic.
Boy 87 is about 14-year-old Shif, who is put into prison – not for something he does but for something he is going to do. The son of a teacher who has already been labelled a traitor and put away, Shif is on the government’s radar for potential trouble-making. In prison, he discovers people like himself – people who are in prison for the kind of something that is actually nothing.
Everyone in prison has one hope – that a new prisoner who comes will escape some day and tell the world all the prison stories. With everyone depending entirely on him, Shif finds himself shouldering a huge responsibility, one that he must fulfil if he is to be remembered as anyone except ‘Boy 87’. He needs to be a living museum of stories, someone who can tell the world outside that all the other prisoners are still alive.
A tale of fear, courage and hope, Boy 87 was another book that kept me reading – and therefore, not writing – until I had finished the story.
Title: Boy 87
Author: Ele Fountain
Genre: War/Realistic Fiction