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Monday, August 22, 2011

Pigeon English

Pigeon English
Stephen Kelman
Houghton Mifflin, 2011

When a basketball-playing classmate is killed in what seems to be a senseless act of violence, eleven-year-old Ghana emigrant Harrison Opuku and his best friend, Dean, decide they are going to find the killer. Dean is, after all, an avid CSI television show viewer, so he knows how to collect fingerprints with cello tape and observe the behavior of suspects. Harrison, his sister Lydia and their mother live in a housing project while they await the rest of their family still in Ghana. While attempting to find the boy’s killer, Harrison and his friends must dodge the violence of the local gang while still trying to enjoy some of life’s pleasures: the sound of his baby sister over the telephone, falling in love with a girl in his class, and of course, tormenting Lydia whenever possible. Things get scary when it becomes apparent that the killer is someone that Harrison and Lydia know, and they must try to escape the same fate as the boy who was murdered.

Harrison is such a clever and funny fellow – it is a shame that he wants to find the killer’s identity, because no good can come of it. The reader can sense this almost from the beginning of the book. “Stop!” we want to shout to Harrison. “Just quit spying on people and looking for the murder weapon!” We know that an eleven year old boy, full of innocence and love and a sense of justice, is no match for a teenage gang member evil enough to murder a boy. Yet the reader will keep reading because that’s what readers do – because we have to find out what happens. Even if that ending is not exactly what we expected, but not exactly what we had hoped for either.

While not a lot may happen in this novel, the characters – especially Harrison – make it a book worth reading. His life in the project may be gritty, dark and disturbing, but Harrison’s attempts to find joy in the smallest things overcome at least some of the despair.


This is the author’s first novel.

Other titles you may enjoy:

Cold Flat Junction by Martha Grimes (2001)
Twelve-year-old Emma investigates the suspicious drowning of another child. Her search for answers is both an inquiry into murder and a way to deliver herself from the confusion of childhood. It is the story of a mystery and also her story.

The Ethical Assassin by David Liss (2006)
Working as a door-to-door salesman in a South Florida trailer park, teenager Lem Altick witnesses the murders of two of his would-be customers and is forced into an alliance with the assassin, an extremist dedicated to animal rights.

Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy (2000)
Content with her life in England and delighted with her first job in the costume department of BBC television, Faith Jackson is stunned when her parents announce that they are moving "home" to Jamaica, an announcement that threatens Faith's fragile sense of identity.

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