Jack moves to Manchester to make a fresh start. He has a job as a driver's mate, lodgings with a friendly landlady and enjoys regular meet ups with Uncle Terry, his only relative. He soon settles in to his new life and makes friends with the lads at work and even gets a girlfriend. Things are going well for Jack but he knows that this life has been built on a lie. He is boy A, who along with Boy B, killed a young girl and dumped her body under a bridge. It was a crime which shocked the nation as the baby-faced killers were still in primary school and many believe they should never be released. Jack loves his new life but struggles to keep secrets from his new friends. How would they react if they discovered who Jack really was?
Boy A obviously takes a lot of inspiration from the Jamie Bulger case; while some details are changed (the killing of a girl rather than a boy, the city where the events take place) a lot of them stay the same. Just like the real life story, there was one ringleader in the horrific killing who had been brutalised by abuse within his family along with another child who was easily led. Jack is a habitual truant who is drawn into a series of events outside his control. Does the fact that he is capable of a horrific act of violence at such a young age mean that he was born bad and deserves to be locked up for life or is it possible for him to lead a normal adult life?
The character of Jack was mostly believable and also fairly likeable. He has a strange combination of naivety and world weariness. Having grown up in a secure unit he has missed out on all of the socialising and normal coming of age experiences that most teenagers have yet has witnessed things that most people twice his age have not seen. The author does not try and paint him as a saint, rather as a normal young man who has as many character flaws as anyone else. We want to see murderers as monsters when they are just like the rest of us. I wonder if that is a way to try and protect ourselves by pretending we would be able to recognise the badness in someone or to try and hide the fact that we would also be capable of horrific acts if provoked enough?
Boy A forces you to see things from the murderer's perspective which can be difficult at times. It is easy to empathise with the families of those murdered and join with the Sun newspaper baying for the killers blood but less easy to see that the perpetrators of the crime are human too. I am someone who believes that the killers of Jamie Bulger should have been rehabilitated and freed if possible, which seems to be the minority opinion so I don't know if someone with the opposite views would have their perceptions changed or hate the book for containing what they believe to be the wrong opinion.
There were a few flaws with the book; when Jack visited at town I know reasonably well I was screaming at the pages of the book for containing inaccurate details about the town. Apart from that, I did find the fact that the story was so close to the Bulger case really insensitive and potentially distressing for anyone involved.
I did enjoy reading Boy A, despite the subject matter it was an easy book to read which had a good story and was also thought provoking. It would make an ideal choice for a book group due to the number of issues brought up and I am seriously considering making it my choice when it is my turn to choose as I know it would trigger some brilliant discussions.
After enjoying the screen adaptation on Channel 4, I picked up this book at my local library as a bit of light bedtime reading.
The book is told through flashbacks and present tense in alternating chapters. Each chapter has a short heading and there are 26 in all going through the alphabet, for example chapter one is titled "A is for apple. Bad apple." These make it quite easy to find your place in the book when you pick it back up because they loosely tell the story.
The story itself is about "Boy A", who committed a crime when he was a child, along with his friend "Boy B", and as such as been incarcerated in young offenders' institutions and prisons up until the start of the book.
On his release, he has to change his identity for his own protection, choosing the name Jack, and assisted by long-term mentor and social worker Terry moves to a new area to start a new life, under the guise that Terry is his 'uncle'.
Every other chapter, a little more about Jack's past is revealed. In these chapters he is always referred to as Boy A, his real name is never disclosed. We find out what they actually did, the things which drove them to it and what became of his accomplice.
In the latter half of the book, once we discover the crime, things begin to turn around and Jack realises that his fun new life, with friends and a girlfriend, is not going to last, although I will not reveal why.
Even though I had seen the screen version, it was quite a while ago and I could not remember how certain events panned out, so despite knowing vaguely what happened, I was still gripped by the book. As the chapters are short, I kept finding myself thinking "just one more chapter", but as the following chapter is unrelated, being in the past, I ended up reading yet another chapter more.
I found the ending extremely intense and although I was tired could not put the book down without remembering how everything finished up.
The book definitely made me wonder what I would do in Jack's situation, or if indeed I could be driven to be in his situation in the first place.
The book is an easy read and although at times the subject matter is not suitable for really young readers, the language itself is like that of a young adult book. It would make a good stop-gap between young adult and adult fiction.
The film tie-in version is available on Amazon.co.uk for £3.19, which is certainly a decent price for a gripping and entertaining read (RRP £7.99). The DVD version is not yet for sale.