Is the child in your life of the decidedly average variety? Or are you bristling at the suggestion? Your child is infinitely special. You haven’t quite discovered what their gift is but you’re sure to unearth it any day now, an attitude employed by teenage Sam’s parents in The Gifted, the Talented and Me by William Sutcliffe. This hugely entertaining novel chronicles Sam’s life after he is ill-advisedly enrolled at the North London Academy for the Gifted and Talented. A comedic treat is in store.
Located in Hampstead (where else?) the academy is brimful of achingly hip kids (and teachers, ‘just call me Tony’) beatboxing all over the joint, while instructing Sam to think of the school as a ‘laboratory of curiosity.’ For Sam, a self-professed Mr Average, curiosity is very far from his appalled mind. Feeling uncool and self-conscious, Sam struggles in this rarified world of Hampstead hotshots.
A perceptive writer, William Sutcliffe is brilliant on teen agonies and the dynamics of family life as driven by Sam’s enthusiastic mother. Searching for her own ‘gift’, she skitters from pottery to poetry, via Japanese stool making, in search of an artistic spark. Wanting her kids to be more than just ‘cogs in the capitalist machine,’ she believes the academy can set them free.
Unfortunately, for an increasingly glum Sam, both his siblings instantly excel, leaving him feeling decidedly substandard. Something needs to change. There are interesting points to be made about contemporary culture and expectation, expressed here with some snort-inducing lampooning.
I laughed loudest at the ever-so-relatable family dinners, my favourites being the evening Sam’s brother, Ethan, declares himself to be bi-curious, and the evening Mum recites her poem about the menopause.
‘The words ‘fecundity’ and ‘ripening’ simply have no place at a family dinner table.’
My one grumble would be that the narrative arc is too predictable, leaving me vaguely dissatisfied. Happily for me, this is compensated by the discovery of William Sutcliffe’s varied backlist.
The Gifted, the Talented and Me by William Sutcliffe is published by Bloomsbury YA, 336 pages.