Fifteen year-old David Starr lives in East dulwich in the 1970s and gets cast as Nancy in his school’s upcoming production of Oliver! He’s smart, loves pop music, and falling in love with his co-star Maxie, who also captains the school football team. His feelings might be reprociated, but things are not as easy as David might hope. There’s bullies to face, the National Front, and a lot of other people who aren’t thrilled about two boys falling in love. But there’s also friendship and acceptance to find, and of course a school play to perform.
I trusted the cover of this book, thinking that it would be a fun read, but I was wrong. Don’t get me wrong, it does have its moments, and David is really sassy and funny. But that’s about it. From homophobia to sexual abuse of a minor, this book has it all. It seems like whenever David finally caught a break and was able to just breathe, the author decided that it was enough and he needed to face some new tragedy, and the further the story progressed the worse it got.
It is really obvious that this book is a debut novel. To be frank, the writing is subpar. The tenses are all over the place and the narration jumps between flashbacks and the present without warning, which makes it really hard to follow the story. On top of that it feels a little like Ronald overdid it with replacing “said” with synonyms. Stylewise it reads a little like bad fanfiction sometimes, which is okay if you’re a fan on the internet writing stories for fun, but a no-go for me in published works.
David himself reads a little like someone made a list of gay stereotypes and just ticked them off as they went along. Now I’m not saying that is a bad thing, flamboyant gay men exist after all, but paired with the really homophobic environment David lives in, it just makes the juxtaposition between the two feel overdrawn.
What was great though was to see the amount of support David got from others once he came out. Some took a while to come around, but there were a lot of people that didn’t seem likely to accept David the way he is but did so anyway.
Overall Becoming Nancy had a story that was worth telling at its core, but the overall execution and the amount of pessimism really threw me off and made it hard to read. I’m not that easily affected by hate speech in books, but Becoming Nancy grew really tedious really quick. There were times when I had to ask myself if this kid had anyone in his corner, or if he was all alone. And every time I thought it couldn’t get worse Ronald just piled more bad things on top. Yes, these stories should be told as well, but I think we could all use a little more hope in them.
If you’re easily affected by homophobia and racism, or triggered by mentions of sexual abuse, I’d recommend you stay far away from this book for your own wellbeing.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2 Stars)
Publication Date: 6 April 2012
Publisher: Trsnsworld Publishers
Page Count: 320
Genre: Young Adult, LGBTAIQ*, Contemporary
For David Starr, being cast as Nancy in the upcoming school production of Oliver! is quite a shock. But David is up to the challenge. Living in a three-bedroom semi in 1970s working-class East Dulwich, surrounded by his somewhat colorful relatives, he is bright, smart-mouthed, fanatical about pop music, and ready to shine. Rehearsals begin, and he strikes up a friendship with the handsome yet enigmatic Maxie Boswell, captain of the school football team. As their alliance deepens it appears they might become more than just good friends, but that can’t be right, can it? Discovering a confidant in an empathetic teacher, Hamish McClarnon, and spurred on by his no-nonsense best friend, Frances Bassey, David takes on the school bully, the National Front, and anyone else who threatens to stand in the way of true love. Vibrant, warm, and full of life, this uproarious and touching coming-of-age novel, set against the backdrop of South-East London in the thrill of the late 1970s, will transport you straight back to your first music obsession and the highs and lows of your first love.