Customer Reviews: The Unforgotten Coat
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on November 9, 2011
In an author's note at the back of THE UNFORGOTTEN COAT, Frank Cottrell Boyce tells the story of its genesis, which has its origins in the very first author visit he ever made to a school, shortly after publication of his first novel, the bestseller MILLIONS. It was one of those interactions that lingers in the back of a writer's mind, waiting for a chance to find its way into a story. When it came time for the story to be told, Boyce enlisted the help of collaborators, the photographers Carl Hunter and Clare Heney, whose Polaroid snapshots further elevate this powerful tale.

The story is presented as a notebook. Written by Julie, who's now a young woman with a child of her own, it chronicles the events of her sixth-grade year, events that have never really faded from her memory but are brought back to sudden immediacy upon the discovery, at her old school, of a coat left behind by the boy who became her unexpected friend that year, and of the few dozen photographs in its pockets.

As Julie explains, sixth grade at her small school in Bootle, a suburb of Liverpool, was characterized by mundane obsessions: things such as who liked whom, and who was going to which secondary school the following year. In the UK, sixth grade marks a year between childhood and whatever comes after, and Julie felt that she was in a bit of a holding pattern before the arrival of Chingis Khan and his younger brother Nergui, refugees from Mongolia. All of a sudden, she wasn't just one of the crowd, the girl the boys ignored and the other girls tolerated. She was Chingis and Nergui's "Good Guide," the one they relied upon to teach them the ins and outs of life in Bootle --- and of Western culture more generally.

As Julie spends more time with the brothers, she not only grows fascinated by their tales of the culture and history of Mongolia, she also gains a new appreciation for the ordinary sights of Bootle she used to take for granted: "Until I took on the Good Guide duties, I'd had no idea there was a small tribe of sad-looking Year Five lads who more or less lived in the clump of trees that had been planted to hide the trash cans.... I'd had no idea that Mrs. Harrison spoke French because she came from the Congo. I hadn't known that you could find frogs in the big clump of nettles between the playground and the car park." She also marvels at the brothers' passionate desire to become part of her rather unremarkable world: "The truth was, the boys weren't just learning English; they were hiding themselves inside English, burying themselves in footie and insults, swearing and buzz words. They were learning themselves ordinary."

Just as Chingis and Nergui seem to have assimilated themselves into Bootle school and town life --- complete with a newfound grasp of the rules of football --- Julie discovers surprising new information about them. She has more questions than answers, but her unanswered questions seem as unlikely to be resolved as Chingis's left-behind coat is to be claimed.

Designed to look like a composition notebook, complete with convincingly aged Polaroid photos, THE UNFORGOTTEN COAT draws readers into Julie's mind, and into this unexpectedly rich and complicated world in which she finds herself. This is an unusual book, and one whose political and social implications are as worthy of discussion here in the US as they are in the UK. Like Chingis and Nergui, like that forlorn coat, Boyce's latest novel, although slim in stature, will not soon be forgotten.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl
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on July 20, 2012
"The Unforgotten Coat" by Frank Cottrell Boyce is an unforgettable story of two mysterious brothers who befriend a girl (Julie) and appoint her as their "good guide." The brothers pretend they believe they are being chased by a demon. There may not be a real demon, but they are being chased. Julie learns more about the tricky brothers' background and finds the true meaning of fear.

These "Mongolian" brothers show Julie the bliss of having the gift of imagination. As an adult, she pieces together parts of their story and figures out what was really happening from the pictures to the coats to the demon. Julie and the brothers give you laughs and you, the reader, can really compare yourself to these moments of fun.
"The Unforgotten Coat" can be suitable for adults, teens and kids alike. I personally wouldn't suggest it for anybody under 6 because of the way the humor is being shown. It only slightly surfaces and could be hard for younger readers to understand. Also, the meaning and importance of the plot can be hard to grasp. Kids can probably relate to the conveyed feelings of the characters better though.

This book has some very interesting parts. My personal favorite parts are mostly the funny moments. I enjoyed that the author used the simile "it was like watching high tension tennis." The new students were contradicting the teacher and the classmates were looking back and forth, back and forth as if following the ball. I also thought it was especially funny when Julie found "Mongolia" was just pictures of Bootle angled and set up so it gave the illusion of being a certain way. Finally, the last picture reached my heart with the brothers thanking her for being their good guide. This book is definitely specially because in total it teaches you that if you use your imagination, you can convince yourself its one thing. This can make you mentally stronger.

This story should be read by ages 8-800 because of the subtle humor. Younger kids might understand half of it. Also, the book's importance could be irrelevant to them. They won't be able understand the fear of these people. This book would be 5 stars because it gives perspective mystery, and is thought provoking. I would recommend this to any reading lovers.

Review by Young Mensan Dante P., age 10 Northern New Jersey Mensa
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Contemporary Mongolia doesn't have all that many English language children's novels to its name. And if you asked me to name everything I knew about Mongolia today, I'd probably find myself referring to key scenes in that recent documentary Babies more than anything else. I don't think I would have selected author Frank Cottrell Boyce to shed any light on the country or its inhabitants. Heck, I'll take it one step further. With books like Millions and Cosmic under his belt I wouldn't have even thought he'd want to write a book about immigration, cultural identity, fitting in, and having your assumptions wrecked. Shows what I know because write such a book he has and the result is a svelte little novel that may be his best. The Unforgotten Coat is the kind of book you get when an author gets an original idea and works it into something memorable. This is one story kids will read and then find difficult to forget.

Julie first sees the boys on the playground during break. When the class returns inside the boys follow and suddenly there they are. Chingis and Nergui, two brothers from Mongolia. Almost immediately Chingis identifies Julie as their "Good Guide" who will show them around and tell them everything they need to know. Julie embraces her role with gusto, but as she helps the boys out she wants to know more and more about them. Where do they live? Why do they insist that Nergui is being tracked by a demon that will make him "vanish". What's their real story? The trouble is, the moment Julie realizes what's going on it is far too late.

The book is great. No question. But it's the Afterword that deserves just as much attention. In it the reader learns where Boyce got the inspiration for this story. Turns out, during the very first school visit Mr. Boyce ever did, he sat with a group of kids that included a Mongolian girl by the name of Misheel. Then one day the Immigration Authorities took her away in the night and Boyce was left with the image of Misheel's abandoned coat. He wanted to make a documentary with the kids of going to Mongolia to return the coat but that fell through. So it was he wrote this story instead with new characters and, at its core, an abandoned coat. Again.

The best works of protest are those that don't harangue you but softly win you over to their point of view. Boyce is not a fan of some of the actions taken by the U.K.'s immigration authorities, that's for sure. In his Afterword he even goes so far as to say, "I do know that a country that authorizes its functionaries to snatch children from their beds in the middle of the night can't really be called civilized." And he could have made the characters of Chingis and Nergui adorable moppets who win your heart with a smile and a wink. He doesn't. Chingis is demanding and Nergui isn't far off. You do grow attached to them, but not because they're cute or anything. If you like them it's because you got to know them a little better, just as Julie has. So when they're taken away you feel the shock of watching someone you know vanish. And it feels wrong.

The character of Julie is fabulous, partly because I've never quite encountered her situation in a book for kids before. We don't get much of a sense of Julie's home life in this story. What we do know is that when she runs into Chingis and Nergui she is adopted by them and settles into her role as "Good Guide" with an overabundance of gusto. I think as kids we all knew that girl that would throw herself into a project without much in the way of forethought. Her obsession with Mongolia (and the boys' relative disassociation with it) rings true. For all that it's a short book, Boyce is remarkably good at synthesizing a story down to its most essential elements. Extra Bonus: It's definitely the first novel for kids I've encountered where the emotional punch of the ending is entirely reliant on Facebook. No lie.

Few works of fiction for kids think to make use of the skills of professional photographers. If photography is going to be a part of the narrative (say David and Ruth Ellwand's The Mystery of the Fool and the Vanisher) then they do it themselves. Tapping fimmakers Carl Hunter and Clare Heney (who had previously been asked to make that documentary about the book's source material) was perfect. I have a real problem with contemporary books for kids that use outdated technology (or, for that matter, fail to acknowledge ubiquitous contemporary technology). And if The Unforgotten Coat were set today then you'd probably hear me railing against its use of a Polaroid camera without acknowledging its rarity. But since the storyline takes place in the past, it makes a certain amount of sense. Hunter and Heney then proceed to take brilliant images that perfectly illustrate the text's descriptions. A picture that at first glance appears to show chairs next to enormous trees that look like flowers? Check. Mounds of dirt that could well be mountains? Check and check. The images are all rather beautiful in their own right too, showing that you don't have to skimp on the details in a chapter book for kids, even if it is only 112 pages. You could probably make an argument that the pictures in the book are prettier than actual Polaroids, but that's hard to prove.

I'm fascinated by the layout of the title too. Interestingly enough, it's been designed to resemble a notebook with the key photographs laid into it. Notebook fiction is very big these days, all thanks to the success of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Most of those books are written in the first person by a kid who recounts the highs and lows (mostly lows) of their life with sketched in cartoony pictures. The Unforgotten Coat has exchanged these sketches for Polaroids and while the first person narrator is there, most of the action takes place in the past. The result is a book that feels like it's a part of the notebook genre, but represents a sophisticated step up.

There's a moment at the end of the book when the now grown Julie looks at Chingis's old coat and remarks, "I can see now that it wasn't anything like a traditional Mongolian coat. It's some kind of big, ancient hippie coat." And with that, Boyce just takes a pin and pops an assumption that not only Julie made but every kid reading this book. Few authors have a way of turning you over on your head in the course of reading a children's title. Boyce can. Can and does. This is, without a doubt, one of the best little books I've ever read. A brilliant melding of text and image, it's a wonderful example of what can happen when an author goes for something entirely new. Highly recommended for any kid wanting to read "a short book" as well as those looking for something a little sophisticated for the 9-12 age set. A true original.

For ages 9-12.
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on January 28, 2013
The packaging was excellent, they arrived on time and the teacher was happy.
This is part of their social studies unit
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on April 16, 2015
Excellent quality at reasonable prices with speedy delivery!
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on August 28, 2015
This man is a master story teller, there is no doubt of that. This is a tale which has the arrival of two Mongolian boys - brothers Chingis and Nergui -at a Merseyside school, as its hook; but it's actual central character is a kind warm hearted teenage girl, Julie, classmate to the said boys.

The two boys at first are strange, cold and surly, but for one reason and another, they eventually open up to Julie, and by virtue of that to their teacher and classmates. They introduce Julie and the class to strange folk-tales and superstitions, and this is used to make the story roll along; whether the boys use and know they are using metaphors to tell their tale or whether it is coincidental to what is really going on, well, you'll have to read that to find out. Rather oddly, Polaroid photographs play a very large part in this.

Overall the story is slight, but that's not a criticism, the slightness and novella status rather than it being a full length novel keeps it all bright and breezy and engaging.

There is also a very real parallel to this, but I am sure you would prefer to read that when / if you get this.

Three big scousy cheers to F C B.
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