I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Life is tough and cheerless for Billy Casper, a troubled teenager growing up in the small Yorkshire mining town of Barnsley. Treated as a failure at school, and unhappy at home, Billy discovers a new passion in life when he finds Kes, a kestrel hawk. Billy identifies with her silent strength and she inspires in him the trust and love that nothing else can, discovering through her the passion missing from his life.
I must confess that this was a somewhat depressing book to read. It’s the December selection for my real-life book club and it reminded me of an earlier selection we read this year, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx. At first glance, the circumstances of a poor Puerto Rican family in an American ghetto (RF) and a poor family in the North of England (KfaK) might seem to be entirely different. But many of their problems overlap.
Lack of opportunities, poor education, inadequate nutrition, and no role models of successful people for the younger people to emulate. Billy, in Kestrel, has a neglectful mother, an abusive brother, a job before school that is precarious, plus teachers that don’t care about their students, not to mention abusive teachers. He has to share not only a bedroom, but a bed with his drunken, irritable older brother Jud, then get up super early to deliver papers. There’s no money for extras like gym clothes and no energy for non-necessities. Billy doesn’t want to end up working in the mines, but he doesn’t have either the energy or a plan to change his destiny.
But our true interests will shine through--Billy claims a young kestrel from a nest, steals a book on falconry, and proceeds to train himself and the bird. Obviously, in multiple intelligence theory, Billy would have a Naturalistic intelligence. Being stuck in a classroom or forced to participate in sport is never going to be right for him. He had all of my sympathy, as I share his love of nature and particularly birds.