From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up–Nicholas Dane is a typically rebellious 14-year-old, but he is loyal to the bone to those he cares about. When his mother dies from an overdose, he is sent to the worst home for boys in Manchester, England. Once there, he is tormented, beaten, and battered continuously by his peers and the staff. The abuse lessens when he is befriended by Tony Creal, one of the heads of the Home. Unfortunately, Mr. Creal is a master manipulator and has a long history of sexually preying on his charges. During this time, efforts to find some family for the boy turn up a very wealthy uncle who knew nothing about Nicholas's mother's existence, much less Nick's. The man is willing to pay for his nephew's education, but is told that the boy is incapable of behaving or learning and would be most success if he stayed in the home. Torture starts up again, after Nick refuses to spend time with Tony. One day a friend from the old neighborhood appears in Nicholas's division and saves him on some level. After a failed attempt to escape, the two flee and get involved with shady characters, running various errands for them. During this time, Nicholas erratically visits his mother's best friend, telling her that he is doing fine. As Nicholas gets caught up in street life, he learns that his experience in the home was not an isolated one. Burgess is a genius in drawing readers into a compelling, dramatic, and candid read. He examines the dark underbelly of society and the powers that corrupt and exploit its youth, yet offers an ultimately positive and hopeful message. This book will stay with readers long after they put it down.–Patty Saidenberg, George Jackson Academy, New York City. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
After his mother dies of a heroin overdose and none of his distant relatives step forward to care for him, 14-year-old Nick is sent to Meadow Hill, a boys’ home with a shockingly incongruous name, where violence is utterly unchecked, and “the staff are all the most evil bastards on earth.” After a nightmarish blur of first weeks, Nick thinks he finds a haven in the apartment of sympathetic administrator Tony Creal. Readers may suspect long before Nick does that Creal is an experienced pedophile, and with chilling skill and ease, he earns Nick’s trust with sympathy and comforts before committing his unconscionable acts of violence and betrayal. The chapters follow Nick all the way through to his adult years, resulting in a sprawling novel narrated by an occasionally intrusive authorial voice. But Burgess writes with harrowing authenticity about the dynamics of abuse, and the fragile healing suggested at the book’s end will leave readers asking wider questions about how best to reclaim and protect society’s most vulnerable individuals. Grades 9-12. --Gillian Engberg