Choosing character names is a struggle for me, but it's clear author Malorie Blackman has some naming skills. The two main characters of her latest novel "Boys Don't Cry" are Dante, whose story revolves around being left holding his newborn baby after his girlfriend skips town, has a younger brother named Adam, an openly gay black teenager that Dante's friends hate.
Dante and Adam. Those are fantastic names. The Christian origin, the dichotomy of it - Adam being the son of God, residing in Heaven, Dante being a famous bard who went down into the depths of Hell in search of his love. Religion isn't mentioned in the book, but the symbolism here - the opposite meanings - rings true. Dante and Adam are close as brothers, especially when they're in the house around each other, but they disagree on a lot of things and argue often.
But this story is about a lot more than the two brothers. When Dante is sitting waiting for his A-Level result, his ex-girlfriend appears at the door with a baby she claims is his. Then she disappears, leaving him holding the baby and facing the fact that he might be about to lose everything - a promising university education, his social life, and his current girlfriend Colette.
Told from a rare single father point of view, Dante has to figure out how to be a dad - from changing nappies to worrying about whether it is really his kid. His dad helps him out using his own experience as a single parent - but the help is in true-to-life 'dad' form, with lots of grumbling about what a bloody idiot he is for getting into this mess in the first place.
I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy this story, but Dante's strong voice pulled me into the story. He's very British, and very honest and real - he sounds like a typical English teen guy, it's great. It's also a very honest story - it doesn't skim over any of the harsh realities of being a teen parent. Dante's friends stop calling round to visit, his girlfriend doesn't want anything to do with him, his guy friends mock him when they're not busy taunting his brother.
The story unfolds at a quick pace, with chapters from Dante's point of view showing the child-rearing side of life, and Adam's chapters showing some of the darker sides of Dante's circle of friends. By the end of the story, the viciousness of Dante's friends shows its true colours and has horrible consequences.
The ending left me wanting more - it was realistically done, but I really wanted karma to be served. I also wish they'd mentioned the families skin colour more - the only obvious mention about Dante being black was towards the end. You could argue that this is clever - the ambiguous cover and narrative mean any young guy can relate to the story - but personally I wish this was stated clearly and proudly from the start.
It's been a long time since I read Malorie Blackman (as a kid I poured over stories like "Hacker" and "Pig-Heart Boy" in my Primary School library), and I'm glad to see she's as brilliant a writer as ever.
Maybe I should get around to finally giving her "Noughts & Crosses" series a look...
A review copy of this book was provided by Random House.