Children’s book of the week: Furious Thing by Jenny Downham

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In our spot where we recommend books for younger readers, one for young adult readers (and maybe their teachers).

One of the areas that’s been heavily cut back on as newspapers and magazines trim their budgets in current times is reviews of books for young readers. As such, it’s getting trickier and trickier for authors of books for children and younger readers to get their work noticed. This weekly spot on the site is our attempt to do something about that. If you see a book you like here, please do spread the word. And who knows? We may see some of these stories on the big screen in the future.

I hope there’s a word out there, some beautifully evocative non-translatable into English word, for when you find a book at exactly the right time. That’s what happened with me and Furious Thing by Jenny Downham. Myself and fellow school staff across the world see young people go through all manner of awful experiences and trauma on a nigh-on daily basis, things that cannot be imagined and no amount of teacher training can prepare you for.

The kind of things that Lexi, the protagonist in Furious Thing, goes through are all too common in real life but not enough in fiction. I can’t think of another novel that has portrayed a young person, particularly a young woman’s, roaring rage in a manner so perceptive and understanding.

Lexi is angry at the world. Her mum and her step-father-to-be are baffled by her seemingly wilful destruction of all around her – and it’s a vicious cycle. She lashes out at everything and everyone when she feels isolated, but the consequences of these bursts result in her feeling, well, even more isolated. She’s constantly blamed and misunderstood, inescapable shame weighing heavily upon her. It’s enthralling to follow her unravelling it all, although at times it can make for devastating reading.

Downham’s writing is extraordinary, Lexi’s voice feels raw and authentic – and wholly believable. Her journey, what she has experienced and how she continues to process and reassess it all, is portrayed with such sensitivity and nuance. It would be nigh-on impossible not to root for Lexi: though she does some awful things there’s so much reason behind why they occur and the underlying issues at play.

This feels like an essential read that every young person should be given a copy of. And every member of school staff, as a reminder that we never have the full picture of what is happening in a young person’s life and how what could be perceived as a disruptive behaviour is in fact an indicator of such much more – a reaction to something unknown to us yet brutally felt by them.

I also sincerely and desperately hope this book find it’s way to every Lexi who needs it right now, as Lexi says herself: ‘Yeah – there’s always a way out, but you’ve got to find it. Fairy tales teach you to have hope while you’re looking.’

Release date: Out now
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