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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Lars Saabye Christensen
Age Range: 12+
Herman is a normal eleven-year-old boy growing up in Oslo. Then suddenly, Herman starts to go bald! Herman learns to deal with his hair loss in a sympathetic and funny tale of growing up.
Thereís a lot to admire in this book. Herman is a brave character and one that you can empathise with, as he tries to overcome his hair loss. The account of Hermanís troubles in school on account of hair loss, for example, will strike a chord with anyone who has ever been the object of unwanted attention in class. Lars Saabye Christensen really taps into a scenario that so many children will have found themselves acting through in some form, and when Herman starts to accept himself and become more positive, the message that you can overcome anything really comes through to give the book a happy ending.
Herman is also quite cynical and although his upset and frustration relate to his hair loss, he might seem off-putting to some, as he doesnít give much away emotionally. This is not an asset in a character we are meant to empathise with, although there are a couple of heart-warming scenes, showing how Herman purposely erects emotional barriers to protect himself. These perhaps counterbalance Herman, as they show someone trying to be brave and keep control.
This book is quite difficult to read. The translation from Norwegian has Herman saying Ďone isí rather than ĎI amí rather a lot, which seems a bit odd for an eleven-year-old, and rather jars with the English translation. The third-person narration is also written Ďin the momentí, and seems to move quite slowly in places. Itís also quite sombre, too. Saabye Christensen writes quite negative descriptions of things such as Hermanís school and the doctorís waiting room. Although we are looking through the eyes of an eleven-year-old, for whom these are probably not the most exciting places, it can make the book a little harder to read, and again perhaps take away from the poignancy of Hermanís story, that of a boy slowly coming to terms with a sensitive problem, if he seems surly. Although Herman has some justification, it seems that rude book characters elicit the same reaction as rude people in real life; itís just rather unpleasant, even if there is a reason for it.
Abby Phillips (2010)