With strong characterisation, an appealing narrative voice and wonderful writing, this is a book that you will struggle to put down. A 5* story that will be enjoyed by anyone from confident readers to teens and adults.
Ambrose Bukowski is your typical nerd – clever and geeky with no friends and appalling dress sense. However, to add to his problems, he’s also got a serious nut allergy and a slightly insane overprotective mother. When the school bullies almost kill him by putting a peanut in his sandwich, Ambrose is pulled out of school and educated at home. Lonely and bored, life is not looking good for Ambrose until he meets his neighbour’s grown up son, Cosmos, who has just been released from prison. Outwardly the two have nothing in common other than a love of Scrabble but, as we soon discover, this turns out to be enough to form an unlikely friendship that helps them both.
I loved the idea for this book and was a little concerned that the book itself wouldn’t live up to the enticing concept. Luckily, it did more than that. The idea is great but the book is even better. Told in first person from Ambrose’s perspective, we are drawn in from the opening line and immediately warm to our young narrator despite his many idiosyncrasies. (In many ways I was reminded of Christopher in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. Ambrose is totally believable and author Susin Neilsen has thought through every detail.
The other characters are strong and well-rounded, particularly Ambrose’s slightly neurotic mum. The reasons she gives why Ambrose should keep away from the ex-convict, Cosmos, are at times cringe worthy and totally un-PC but that only makes her more realistic. The dialogue throughout the novel is strong and some of Cosmos’s lines made me laugh out loud, especially given it is reported to us by Ambrose who often fails to understand Cosmos’s true meaning. As the reader we know Cosmos is being ironic but poor Ambrose appears to be blissfully unaware. I especially enjoyed the ongoing references to Ambrose’s purple cords.
There is a well-structured plot with a suitably dramatic climax when Ambrose finally decides to stand up for himself. However, it is the strong characterisation, appealing narrative voice and the wonderful writing that ultimately make this book so hard to put down.
If you enjoyed this, I’d strongly recommend you read Susin Nielsen’s other books. I particularly loved We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen. Alternatively, if you liked Ambrose as a character, you’ll probably also take to August in Wonder by R J Palacio.
Date: October 2016
Publisher: Andersen Press
Author’s website: Susin Nielsen
Review first published on The Bookbag