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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*Ostrich Boys* by Keith Gray- young adult book review  
Ostrich Boys
by Keith Gray
Grades 8+ 304 pages Random House March 2010 Hardcover    

How much do you know about your friends? When you think about talking about some serious topic, do you just change the subject to something more light-hearted? If you answered yes, youíre not alone.

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray deals with many important issues, like the difficulty that teen guys - and males in general - have with opening up and talking about their feelings, the stuff going on in their lives, problems they might be having at home, at school, or with romantic relationships, etc. It also deals with what all of this can lead to: suicide.

But despite the novelís serious themes, most of it is humorous, an adventurous, engaging, page-turning novel that is hard to put down. Itís so well-written that youíll want to read it in one sitting.

Though Ostrich Boys was originally published in 2008 in England, this year marks the first time itís been published in the States. It was short-listed for the Costa Children's Book Award, the Carnegie Award, and the Teenage Book of the Year Award. When you read it, youíll see why it has garnered so much attention from both critics and the reading public.

Keith Gray is especially good at capturing the sort of day-to-day banter that best friends Ė mates - share. Most of it is just casual conversations, and perhaps joking with each other or talking about stuff like sports, girls, school, parties - fairly superficial, surface stuff.

There are enough serious goings-on in the world, after all, and spending time with oneís friends should be fun, right? Thatís how friendships should be, usually, but it can result in a situation where if one of your mates is having problems in his life, he might feel he has no one to turn to - and that the only way out is to end it all.

Whatís the story about? The strength of friendships, and wanting to stand up for oneís friends, even if it means you might suffer the consequences. Best friends Kenny, Sim and Blake kidnap the ashes of Ross, one of their mates who was struck and killed by a motorist while riding his bicycle. The driver has suggested that maybe Ross drove in front of his car on purpose to kill himself, though he didnít leave a suicide note behind.

Kenny, Sim, and Blake see the hypocrisy of several of the people at the funeral - some just there to get out of school, not because they really knew Ross. There are some who even acted cruelly toward Ross when he was alive: a bully who beat him up, and an ex-girlfriend who broke up with him.

They hatch a plan to get back at some of these people by painting graffiti on their houses or cars, and they plan to steal Rossís ashes and take him to the small town of Ross, Scotland, where Ross had often mentioned to them that he wanted to travel to, if only just once.

The first-person narrator of the novel, Blake, is supposed to pass Rossís urn out the window to Kenny and Sim, but Rossís sister is holding onto the urn and doesnít seem to want to let it go. Then Rossís father comes back to his house from the police station, and Blake is worried that he might be there because the police have already discovered who was responsible for the graffiti, and that he and Kenny and Sim will be busted for their actions.

Instead, Rossís father was called there so the police could ask him what he thought about the motoristís idea, that Ross might have been suicidal. His father asks Blake for his opinion, and Blake soundly denies the possibility. Rossís behavior and actions in the weeks and days previous to his death donít seem to Blake to be how a person contemplating suicide would act.

Blakeís friends have phoned him, after having given up on the ashes being passed out the window, and Blake tells them to give him five minutes and heíll meet them with the ashes. But he has difficulties doing this, basically resorting to grabbing the urn from Rossís sisterís arms and running out the door, with Rossís father and sister yelling for him to come back.

Right from the start, the plan that looked so good to the boys - to fulfill one of Rossís wishes and pay final honors to one of their best friends - is hurting some of the people who Ross cared about the most: his own family.

Blake and his mates mean well, though Blake does feel guilty about not having at least let Rossís sister in on their scheme. They buy train tickets and embark on a road trip that is both humorous and filled with setbacks. Kenny leaves his bag aboard a train when they switch to another one.

The bag holds his money, over 100 pounds, that the guys were counting on to finance the rest of their trip. It also has his train ticket in it. He still has the return part, which he can use when they leave Ross, if they ever make it there. Without the ticket to get the rest of the way there, though, they have to find another method of getting to Scotland.

They get a ride as far as Blackpool, England, from a teen called Joe and his mate, Gus, in a taxi that Joeís older brother operated until moving to Australia. Joe backs into Sim accidentally, so offers to drive them to Blackpool to hopefully avoid the chance that Sim will try to get the cops involved. Sim wouldnít want to - it would also get him and Blake and Kenny in trouble - but Joe doesnít know this.

There are quite a few funny and sometimes poignant moments in their journey towards Ross. They begin to discover that their friendship is based on really superficial things, and the truth about Ross' death is more complicated than they thought.

Because Ostrich Boys deals with the topic of suicide, at first the novelís English publishers had the word TEENS splashed on the back of the bookís jacket. It can be read and enjoyed by younger children if theyíre mature enough, but it is probably best if kids younger than 12 donít read it (unless their parents feel they can handle the subject matter). It is an excellent, thoughtful, often humorous novel I heartily recommend, and I look forward to reading more novels by Keith Gray in the future.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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