The management staff of Manakau New Horizons Boys’ Home waited in a cramped office and fidgeted. There were four of them, with an empty chair waiting for a fifth. Helen Grenville looked at her watch for the third time in as many minutes. Eight-fifteen and soon the others would drift off, and Monday was such a busy day. She cleared her throat to begin speaking, and in he breezed.
‘Sorry all, not holding you up, am I?’ Terry slid into his chair and dragged his papers out of a battered leather satchel.
‘No more than you do every Monday, Terry,’ Helen replied tightly, ‘and theirs just so much to do today.’
‘Mea culpa, humble apologies, et cetera, et cetera. Come on, let’s not dilly-dally. What’s up, Helen?’
There’s a new boy coming to Manakau New Horizons Boys’ Home. Hamish Graham. Fourteen-years-old, ultra-bright, ultra-violent. He’s been in trouble since he was a small child, and no one seems to quite know what to do with him. Hamish knows, and he’ll tell you if you ask him. Actually, he’ll tell you even if you don’t ask. And Hamish, via a journal, will also tell you why he behaves the way he does. To him, it’s clear and simple and those who don’t understand are just not trying. He has his heroes: foremost among them Alexander the Great. But there are others too, war heroes and legends, and Hamish is sure he’d be more understood in their worlds than he is in his own present world. People in this world seem to lack the will or intelligence to understand him. But that’s their problem, he reasons, not his. The cover shows a teenager’s single eye staring intently out, intelligent and provocative.
A novel with the title Violence 101, and with a cover like this is not going to be light and fluffy. And nor should it be. Denis Wright dives deep into a troubled boy’s psyche and looks out through his eyes. To him, his reactions and responses are totally reasonable. But to most of the staff at the ‘homes’, his reactions and explanations are something quite other. Violence 101 is not an easy read, and again, it shouldn’t be. It takes the reader from an uncomfortable place, pushes them hard until finally they stand on the edge of a precipice with the wind blowing the wrong way. Is Hamish right? Is he just misunderstood by those with insufficient intelligence or imagination? Or is Hamish the ultimate unreliable narrator, showing that his intelligence has one big blind spot when it comes to self-analysis. An uncomfortable yet riveting read. Recommended for lower- to mid-secondary readers and beyond.
Violence 101, Denis Wright
Black Dog Books 2011
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author
This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.