Title: We Can Be Heroes
Author: Catherine Bruton
Publisher: Egmont Books
Publication Date: 1 Aug 2011
Synopsis from Amazon
Moving. Funny. Explosive. And most of all, unexpected…As powerful as Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Millions. My dad was killed in the 9/11 attacks in New York. But the stuff in this book isn’t about that. It’s about the summer my mum went away. The summer that me and Jed and Priti tried to catch a suicide bomber and prevent an honour killing. There’s stuff about how we built a tree house and joined the bomb squad; how I found my dad and Jed lost his; and how we both lost our mums then found them again. So it’s not really about 9/11 but, then again, none of those things would have happened if it hadn’t been for that day. So I guess it’s all back to front, sort of…
This is a novel which I’ve seen reviewed on other blogs and liked the sound of so when it turned up on my doorstep I was really pleased. It’s not a small book, in fact I think it’s nearly 500 pages if my memory serves me right but the tone and style given to the narrator make it seem manageable and extremely enjoyable.
Now the story is quite intricate but at no point feels complicated. Our narrator is Ben, he’s twelve years old and his dad was killed in 9/11. He’s found himself staying with his grandparents over summer, joined unhappily by his 14 year old cousin Jed and they soon make friends with the street’s new resident Priti Mohammed. Ben is an avid cartoonist and often turns harsh reality into comic strips, which seems to be his way of handling things.
The summer days are whiled away by their extremely active and evidently childish imaginations. As the story begins to unfold it is possible to see all the pitfalls as a reader but equally possible to imagine a pre-teen thinking in this way. From suspicions that Jed is terminally ill to even more sinister assumptions about Priti’s Muslim family it is easy to see how their imaginations get carried away and lead to more serious consequences.
It’s hard to talk about this novel without giving too much away but I think it can definitely be described as a coming of age story with the three main characters learning new things about themselves and their environments. It deals with race issues, family breakups and some very hard-hitting stuff without taking it out of context. Ben’s ability to turn any situation into a comic strip is particularly powerful as it reaffirms age of the protagonist despite the seriousness of the situations they end up in.
My favourite character by a mile is Priti, she’s absolutely hilarious, witty and a perfect complement to Ben’s quiet nature and Jed’s switching between silent brooding and hyperactive destruction. The character I disliked from their first appearance was Uncle Ian, for reasons which will become clear when you give this book a read.
This is a fantastic story which brings together issues of multiculturalism, terrorism and blame. The back story behind many of the events is just as powerful as the plot and this should really be a book which schools should stick on the curriculum.