The wonderful shortlist for this year’s Carnegie Book Award included such luminous characters as a rapper, a drag artist, and a lighthouse keeper’s daughter. But in the end, two everyday teenagers from Yorkshire have scooped the coveted Carnegie crown in Lark by Anthony McGowan. Brothers Nicky and Kenny may seem ordinary but their tale is anything but when they become stranded on the Yorkshire Moors during a day trip. What was meant to be ‘ a stroll, a laugh,’ a lark, is set to become a test of brotherly bonds and a fight for their very survival.
Nicky and Kenny’s mum left some years ago. They live with their dad, love and dysfunction in uneasy coexistence as we pick up clues regarding alcohol dependency and ‘so many times flitting from the rent.’ Now, shockingly, their mum is coming to see them. Jittery with nerves, the boys need a pre-meeting distraction,and when Dad reminisces about his childhood escapades on the moors, they decide to plan their own rural adventure. After all, ‘ At this time of year, the larks will be singing,’ and the weather spring-like.
Of course, springtime in Yorkshire can run the gamut of meteorological scenarios and here, a greyish dreary day morphs into a snow blizzard. On unfamiliar terrain and hopelessly ill-equipped, the boys become disorientated. When panic and carelessness leads to an accident, Nicky and Kenny fear for their lives.
McGowan is great at capturing the boys’ daft bantering and ease with each other.They are stoical and unsentimental but for Nicky in particular, past events have caused anguish, and painful memories reach a climax in conjunction with the eddying storm.
From innovative dyslexic-friendly publishers, Barrington Stoke, Lark is edited to a reading age of nine, and interest age of young teen. Note also the extremely beautiful cover art by Nick Hayes. One instance where you really can judge a book by its cover.
A novel of boyhood, landscape, and brotherly love, Lark is an outstanding read.
Lark by Anthony McGowan is published by Barrington Stoke, 120 pages.