by Stephen Kelman

“Advise yourself.” This is a book that may break your heart, but you will enjoy every minute of it. When I read a book, it doesn’t matter to me how well the author turns a phrase or even how well a plot is constructed. If there is not a character that I can really connect with or like in some way, I have trouble getting into the story and enjoying the book. Harrison Opoku of Pigeon English is a character to love.

Harrison is an eleven year old boy who has recently moved with his mother and sister from Ghana to London. They have left behind Harri’s father, grandmother, and baby sister who are waiting for the money and the opportunity to join them in a new life. Their home is in one of London’s high-rise apartment blocks, a housing project where danger waits in every elevator and hallway. Harri is confused and sometimes a little lost in this alien world, but his enthusiasm cannot be quashed. This is a child you will want to reach out and hug. He is cheerful, enthusiastic, and curious about the world. He is filled with joy. He enjoys school, especially science class, and he loves to run. He has a best friend, Dean, and a few other friends at school, but he is also bullied on a regular basis. Out of his loneliness, Harri makes a connection with a pigeon that comes to perch on the balcony railing of his apartment.

One day Harri and Dean witness the murder of one of their classmates. When they realize that the police will do little or nothing to find the killer, they begin their own investigation. After all, they have seen CSI. They have skills and a pair of binoculars. As one can imagine, their probing leads them to darker places than they have ever been before, but Harri faces difficulties and danger with the characteristic courage and enthusiasm that he brings to family, friends, school, and life in general. It is a treat to follow Harri and his friends and lots of fun to hear Harri’s very special brand of English.

This is a great story. It is not really a murder mystery—boys solving a crime that others can’t solve. Instead it is the story of a young boy trying to find his place in a strange and sometimes very ugly world.

(This book is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction.)