Friday, 11 October 2013

Heroic, by Phil Earle

I first met Phil Earle in the offices of Simon and Schuster when I was preparing Supermarket Zoo for publication.  In fact, Phil suggested Albie as the character's name. And it stuck. 

So when he published his first book, Being Billy, I had to read it.  It had rave reviews and won the 2012 WeRead Book Award.  It was also nominated for the Carnegie Medal, and was shortlisted for both the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and Branford Boase Award. 

Saving Daisy, Phil's second book has been shortlisted for both the Leeds and Hounslow Book Awards.

So what's all the fuss about? 
Both Being Billy and Saving Daisy are gritty, no-nonsense stories of children's lives in care, inspired by Phil's own experience working in care homes in his early career.
Heroic is a little different.  It's the story of Sonny and Jammy, streetwise brothers living on the rough and unforgiving Ghost estate.  Driven by poverty and a desire to make a difference, older brother Jammy and his friend Tommo sign up with the military and are soon posted to fight in Afghanistan. But the promise of glory is overtaken by the true horrors of war as Jammy fights for his life and that of his friend Tommo.  Meanwhile Sonny is fighting his own battles at home, as he struggles with his own identity and his older brother's glowing reputation.  When Jammy returns home on leave, Sonny is forced to take charge, and become the brother, friend and son he always longed to be. 
Interview with Phil Earle
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Phil Earle says that while he has no personal experience of basic training or active service, he did lots of research and hopes that his accounts of his characters' experiences with the Taliban ring true.  Phil says, "I've never been interested in sugaring the pill, or telling a half-truth... It's a sad reality that [the Taliban] have tortured their own people for perceived "acts of disloyalty" towards British or American soldiers. It is common for them to set improvised explosive devices indiscriminately, and for these to have wide-reaching casualties. I didn't feel I could ignore this, and didn't want to. Young adult readers deserve the truth and demand it too!"
I feel that Phil has approached the issue with sensitivity and understanding, conveying something of the horrors of war without being overly graphic or sensationalist.  His focus is on how war is glamourised, and how vulnerable people - people with few other choices - can end up on the front line. 
Battles closer to home
But this story doesn't only deal with war per se.  It also looks at life on a rough inner city estate and the pressures on the young people living there.  Pressure to commit crimes, pressure to take drugs , pressure to create a reputation in order to survive in a world run by violent gangs.  All this while trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.
Heroic is a brilliant, honest and sensitive tale, pitched perfectly for children aged 12 and above and I heartily applaud Phil Earl for what he has achieved. 
Other brilliant books by Phil Earle

Heroic is published by Penguin.  The book contains some strong language and reference to drugs and violence.  Suitable for 12 years plus.

You might also like: Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

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