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The Kindle Daily Deal from Amazon has alerted me to some great books that I would probably never have otherwise discovered and, because most are reduced to 99p for 24 hours, it has meant I could take a punt on books I would never have bought at full price. The 10pm Question is a perfect example of one of those titles.
Frankie Parsons is an almost 13 year old who worries about everything and is scared that every minor mark on his body is an indication of some terrible illness waiting to happen. He has to put up with a dysfunctional family and a fragile mother has not left the house for 9 years, meaning young Frankie also has to shoulder much of the responsibility for organising household affairs. Can new girl and free spirit Sydney show him the way to a more care-free life?
The 10pm Question is one of those books that is a sheer delight to read. Its primary audience is probably teenagers in the 13-16 age bracket - that awkward time of life when you are not yet an adult, not quite a child. Yet like all the best literature, it transcends age barriers and (as someone who can only dimly remember his teenage years) appealed to me as much as it would appeal to younger readers.
There are many reasons why The 10pm Question is such a good read. Not least is the fact that it is so truthful. My teenage years might be well behind me, but I can still remember the angst and worry caused by things which, with hindsight, were deeply inconsequential. De Goldi captures this angst perfectly, effectively turning Frankie into an avatar for every teen, everywhere.
As well as making for an enjoyable read, this makes The 10pm Question highly useful. If you have a child who going through these growing pains, you can give them this book to read and it might help them to see that the self-doubt and confusion they are experiencing is perfectly normal.
It's this element of identification that's crucial to the book's success. You instantly warm to Frankie and his slightly dysfunctional (but instantly recognisable) family. OK, so some elements are taken to extremes (few of us have relatives who have not set foot outside the house for a decade), but De Goldi's story perfectly captures the dramas and tensions of family life, without going totally overboard.
You could argue that the book is actually rather dull since, in one sense, very little happens. Frankie and the other characters exist, just trying to get through each day as best they can. Yet, to accuse the 10pm Question of dullness would be completely unfair. It's an interesting and accurate portrayal of family life which in turns is funny, touching and occasionally a little upsetting - and doesn't that reflect family life perfectly?
As already noted, it's a book littered with great characters. Whilst each family member might have their own idiosyncrasies that are, perhaps, a little exaggerated, they nevertheless feel real and it's easy to identify with them. The squabbles and bickering between different family members are true to life and will be instantly recognisable to all readers who have ever had an annoying older/younger brother/sister.
For the most part, De Goldi is an excellent writer. She handles some potentially difficult subject matter in a sensitive way. Her narrative slowly grows so that you start to understand the bigger picture and the background to, and cause of, Frankie's worries and concerns. The more you read, the more you become attached to the Parsons family and want to see everything work out for them. Almost without noticing, De Goldi gets you to invest a lot in the book emotionally.
Style-wise, it reminded me very much of both Holes and Small Steps by Louis Sachar. It had that same kind of grounding in realism, that same sense of the bleakly comic and the absurdly touching and was a real joy to read.
Perhaps the only negative is that De Goldi has a tendency to write in very long chapters with no real breaks. Individual chapters (all set on a Tuesday) document particularly significant events in Frankie's life (or what he perceives as significant events) and are often quite long. On the one hand, this works in the book's favour: the longer chapters allow for greater plot and character development and reinforce the idea that Frankie is becoming overwhelmed by so much happening in so short a time. On the other hand, it makes it difficult to just pick up and read a few pages - you really need to set aside a reasonable chunk of time and try and read a single chapter in one sitting.
Thankfully, The 10pm Question justifies this sort of investment and the difficulty is not so much setting time aside for a single chapter as stopping when you reach the end of it, as the temptation to carry on will be so strong.
The 10pm Question currently costs about £5 in either Kindle or paperback edition and is well worth the money. If you've got teenage kids, buy it for them and then sneak a read of it yourself when they're not looking. Neither of you will regret it!
The 10pm Question
Kate De Goldi
Candlewick Press, 2012
© copyright SWSt 2013